REVIEWS

The Secret History of Marvel Comics

1 CoverThe cover of this book depicts Captain America leaving the building. He’s not in the book, nor is the history of “Marvel Comics” as such, aside from some brief cameos. What’s actually in the book partly corresponds to its subtitle: “Jack Kirby and the Moonlighting Artists at Martin Goodman’s Empire.”

It’s really two books in one, both a step removed from comic books. The first is a beautifully illustrated, 100-page monograph on the history of Martin Goodman’s business operations and publications, excluding comic books. The second is a 170-page anthology of black-and-white pulp/magazine illustrations by comic book artists who appeared in Goodman’s non-comic publications, including Jack Kirby, Joe Simon, Alex Schomburg, Bill Everett, Carl Burgos, Syd Shores, and many others. Who knew that Artie Simek was also a cartoonist?!

In addition to all of the Timely, Atlas, and Marvel comic books (through 1967), Goodman published multiple titles in nearly every mass audience periodical genre for four decades. He was a captain of industry when it came to volume of product and conformity to the prevailing trends.  As a result, this generous collection of Goodman covers and interior art is also a substantial survey of mid-century mass audience periodical history – reflecting the changing appetites of the public and corresponding trends in magazine illustration and design.

All of this book’s research and content is very welcome, and it comes at a good time. Sean Howe’s recent Marvel Comics: The Untold Story (2012) provided an authoritative history of Marvel comic books; this book expands our understanding of the publishing industry context in which those comics were produced, and it gives us an unprecedented portfolio of non-comic book art from some notable comic book artists.

The highlight of the portfolio section is nearly 40 pages of Kirby’s black and white, pulp magazine interior illustrations, many of them short story splash pages or spreads. The bulk of these date from 1940-1941, the very moment when Kirby was first pushing the limits of comic books and sequential art. He was drawing these pulp splash pages at the same time he was churning out the early Captain America stories.

Jack Kirby pulp splash page, 1940.

Jack Kirby pulp splash page, 1940.

 

As the authors note, artists often had a chance to take their time with magazine illustrations, and Kirby’s examples certainly demonstrate that; his early comic book art often looks primitive in comparison to the pulp illustrations. (The pulp work often looks much more like circa 1950 Simon and Kirby art.) Sadly, this book provides no real analysis of comic book artists’ individual approaches to non-comic art, but we get to see Kirby working in ink, watercolor, photo-collage, and stipple board. (All of this in 1940 and 1941, mind you!)

Stipple board was a common medium for pulp illustrations, and while some of these comic book artists weren’t masters of it, Kirby was. Stipple board enabled pencil drawings to be economically reproduced as black and white illustrations, while turning analog pencil gradations into binary black and white. So, in these reproductions of Kirby stipple illustrations, we see him working in pencil, knowing that it will not be inked.

3 KirbyStippleSpread4 KirbyPulpSplash25 KirbyPulpSplash3

Jack Kirby one- and two-page spreads, drawn on stipple board for pulp short stories, 1940-1941.

Kirby’s full-page and two-page-spread pulp work raises a chicken-and-egg question about where his comic-book-page-exploding innovation came from – from his head, or from the freedom he had found exploiting the huge spaces within pulp magazines? The subtitle of the book under review uses the phrase “moonlighting artists.” However, given Kirby’s prolific 1940-1941 work in both formats (comics and pulps), it seems impossible to dispute that they were feeding each other. We may need to offer Martin Goodman a belated thank you for hiring Kirby to do both at the same time, at exactly the right time in comic book history.

Alex Schomburg is another interesting case that is well documented in this book. He’s best known for his immaculately precise and detailed comic book covers during the World War II period – many of them for the “Marvel” line – and thereafter for his painted science fiction work. He, too, was a prolific pulp artist, though his work veers from the seemingly hasty to the very deliberate. He produced a lot of primitive torture-porn illustrations, as well as more sophisticated splash page layouts.

6 SchomburgTorture7 SchomburgStipple

Pulp illustrations by Alex Schomburg.

Most of the other featured artists are either represented by a small (but often tasty) sample of work, or they are not major comic book artists in the first place, making their pulp illustrations less of a draw on that basis. There’s quite a bit of Joe Simon and Frank R. Paul (who gets into the portfolio because he painted the cover of Marvel Comics #1). Figures like Matt Baker and Al Williamson are here, but the work is not particularly impressive; comics were clearly their medium, or their best magazine work wasn’t published by Goodman. Bill Everett’s pulp illustrations are not revelatory, but his more sophisticated magazine art is.  Syd Shores turns out to be spectacular, when he could do anything he wanted, though his comic book art casts him as something of a Simon and Kirby knock-off.

8 BillEverettCheesecake10 DonRicoWoodcut

Illustrations by Bill Everett, Syd Shores, and Don Rico (actual woodcut).

The bottom line is that all of these illustrators were commercial artists, taking whatever paying work came their way, and turning out art accordingly.

The Goodman monograph itself is both gratifyingly researched and frustratingly delivered. As a meticulously researched history of Goodman’s business undertakings and of the publications that came out of them, no more could be asked of the authors. This is a missing piece from the history of 20th Century American publishing and, yes, Marvel Comics. Thank you, gentlemen.

The book’s depiction of Martin Goodman as a man is detailed but indeterminate, though largely negative. Thoughts about Goodman and quotes about him from interesting people are spread across the monograph, but the authors never really attempt to answer the question they ask at the start: “Who was Martin Goodman?”  He is reconstructed through his business practices for most of the 100 pages, with clues to his humanity here and there, but an actual biography and cursory character sketch do not arrive until the very end. This final chapter concludes by indicting Goodman for ripping off Marvel Comics artists (not for their forgotten pulp illustrations, but for The Avengers, not a subject of this book).

Here as elsewhere, the book stumbles over its false premise – that it is a book about Marvel Comics. This absent center disorganizes the book’s intent, judgment, and structure. It obscures a story that would have been better told – would have required a better telling – if Captain America really had left the building on the front cover.

Who was Martin Goodman? The answer from a business point of view is quite fascinating, and the book effectively presents a man with a narrow sense of opportunity, a fairly good head for selling magazines, and a dogged determination to keep publishing.

Goodman never had any significant interest in what he published (except for a devotion to westerns), so long as it sold. How many periodicals could he print and distribute and sell? That was all that mattered. If there was a trend (sadism, science fiction, sex advice, superhero comics, paperback fiction) he copied whatever was selling with multiple imitations. From the 1930s to the 1960s, he threw innumerable pulps, magazines, digests, comic books, and even paperbacks at the wall to see what stuck well enough to justify sourcing content for another issue.

The saga of Marvel Comics as intellectual property gets weirder, once you see Goodman’s decision making, issue by issue, title by title, year by year. He had no respect for others’ intellectual property, insofar as he was a blatant imitator and published works to which he had no rights. He created a maze of separate companies to divide up his legal and financial risk.

He also understood intellectual property only in the narrowest of business senses: He paid writers and artists once for their work, and then the content was his to print or reprint. (The reprinting of formative 1960s Marvel superhero comics in Marvel Tales and Marvel’s Greatest Comics, was a simple Goodman manoeuver to sell more sheaves of paper, but those reprints broadcast those tales to another generation of readers, sowing the seeds of the Marvel “mythos.”)

However, Goodman does not appear to have conceived of content as “intellectual property” in the sense that we now use that term. To him it was just words and art that he could print on paper again and sell again; it was still merely available content for print publication. In the 1960s he gave away the TV rights to Spider Man, thinking of it as free advertising for his comic book.

There were plenty of lawsuits, right from the beginning, against and by Goodman – eventually including artists’ rights cases – but for at least a couple of decades, Goodman seems to have regarded these conflicts as street fights about protecting newsstand sales of publications that he would cancel the very next minute, if they weren’t profitable.

Nor did Goodman appreciate the value of a brand. He changed the titles and formats of publications with wild abandon, presumably to tweak the sales of any commodity that was on the margin. He occasionally attempted to add some small element to create “brand identity,” but it couldn’t hold his attention. Red Circle pulps. Timely, Atlas, and Marvel comics. There was no real brand identity in Goodman’s long publishing history until Stan Lee conjured one up in the 1960s. When Goodman sold his company for a pittance in the late 1960s, Jack Kirby commented that the selling price was less than the value of Ant Man alone. Goodman just never understood the value of what he owned. He didn’t understand what he owned.

The real story in this book, then, is about an early-to-mid-20th century industry (periodical publishing), and about a very old-school, first-generation American, family business entrepreneur. He was obtuse about art, practical about the periodical market, and good at making money within a very narrow understanding of his opportunities. Marvel Comics was one result, an accident of market demand that he managed to meet, and indeed fuel.

Goodman died rich, while the artists who worked for him did not, and the moral injustice of this outcome is the shadow hanging over this book. The question of whether or not Martin Goodman was a bad guy is introduced at the outset, though never answered explicitly. After reading The Secret History, however, one feels that this is the wrong question. Goodman made these publications possible, comic book or otherwise. He identified consumer demand, and he tried to leverage it, paying Jack Kirby and others to create appropriate content. And this agenda enabled numerous luminaries to make a living as commercial artists, and develop as enduring artists, in both their youth and maturity.

Fate introduced a wildcard: Certain comic book creations became national and global myth- and cash-machines, something no one could have anticipated, least of all Martin Goodman. Captain America was just a wartime knock-off of The Shield (the original patriotic comic book superhero), with Goodman bowing to legal pressure from his former co-worker (now competitor) to change Cap’s shield to a different shape. The Human Torch and The Submariner were both accidental Goodman purchases, when he requisitioned content from a third party vendor, due to the popularity of comic books (See Marvel Comics #1).

Yes, Jack Kirby and others turned out to be the Toulouse Lautrecs of their day, undervalued and underpaid. They got shafted by their own youthful engagement with the work-for-hire arrangement, and by the undervaluing of comic books for several decades. There’s no denying that many comic book creators’ grandchildren should now be rich.

But if you accept this book’s thesis that Martin Goodman didn’t give a crap about content, yet was a hoarder and re-purposer of any intellectual property that he possessed – anything that might sell a few thousand more bundles of paper next month – then this is largely a story of two worlds colliding at a very human level. A man built a widget factory that accidentally produced some Stradivarius violins. He didn’t really understand violins, but he understood that they were his, and that they had value.

Imagine a present day in which old comic books and superheroes are of interest only to a coterie of geeky, aging fanatics. Where the names Tom Mix and Captain America are equally remote (just like 97% of everything Martin Goodman ever published). Those of us who are among the geeky fanatics might regard him as the man who made many artists’ visions possible – the non-artistic enabler of the forgotten art and mythology of comic books. If he’d ended up as a middle-class retiree in Florida, coming out to comic book conventions to swap stories with Jack Kirby, we might think of Martin Goodman as a quirky, square, accidental hero. A guy who built a family business that enabled Captain America to exist, that enabled the early shop work of Bill Everett and Carl Burgos to get an airing through a major newsstand publisher, and who had the good sense to allow Stan Lee to do what he did in the Sixties.

Instead, we know him as the first person to refuse Marvel comic book creators a share of the accumulating value of their creations. As he always had, he regarded the properties he’d bought as his own, and then he sold all the important ones for less than the value of Ant Man. From the lofty perch of 2014 parent company Disney, Martin Goodman was as clueless as Jack Kirby.

However, at a certain point, he was offered a choice about whether or not to share what he owned with those who had created the stickiest content in his empire’s history. He refused. This moment has come to define Martin Goodman, because we care about comic book artists and don’t care about Martin Goodman, his children, or his grandchildren.

The richest element of this book may be its muted, conflicted call to start caring about Martin Goodman, at least a little bit. To see him as a limited, determined businessman and family man – a classic 20th Century striver – without whom there would likely be no Marvel Comics.

If you scrambled the well known and the forgotten superheroes of the early Forties, and then dealt them out randomly to different publishers, it’s impossible to guess which ones would endure today. Maybe The Black Terror would be ubiquitous and The Human Torch forgotten. If someone less determined or with less newsstand reach than Goodman had bought his early properties, they might have died in their cradles, footnotes rather than cultural memes.

Or, if you want to argue that Captain America, The Human Torch, and The Sub-Mariner (three different creators) are intrinsically better than the 179 early masked heroes that we’ve forgotten, then maybe Martin Goodman knew how to choose winners. Maybe he is the indisputable “creator” of Marvel Comics.

And, if Goodman hadn’t hired Jack Kirby to draw a huge number of pulp illustrations, Jack Kirby might not have set comics on their most interesting visual course.

You can take Marvel Comics out of this book, but you can’t take Martin Goodman out of Marvel Comics and have any confidence at all that there would still be a Marvel Comics.

Ladies and gentlemen, meet Martin Goodman, go-getter and publisher, aged 33. It’s late 1940 or early 1941, and he’s reviewing the cover art for the 11th issue of his hit comic book, Captain America. He hired the right artists to create a knock-off of The Shield, and they knocked it out of the park for him. Yancy Street battles lie before him, and he’ll get knocked down a bunch of times, but the choices he’s already made will change the course of American popular culture.

11 Martin Goodman

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127 Responses to The Secret History of Marvel Comics

  1. According to Sean Howe, and he bases this on the report of the company sale in Variety, the “pittance” that Goodman sold the company for in the late ’60s was just under $15 million. Adjusted for inflation, that’s about $100 million in today’s dollars.

  2. Jeet Heer says:

    Sigh. If you sell a company that goes to generate billions of dollars in revenue for $15 million or even $100 million, you’ve sold it for a pittance. In 1933, Eugene Meyer bought the Washington Post for $825,000 — now, that’s a lot of money and I’m sure Robert Stanley Martin would want to note that in 2014 terms that more than $14 million. Still, it’s commonly reported that Meyer got the Post for a bargain basement price because the paper went to generate far more than $825,000 or even $14 million for Meyer and his family. It’s really sad how often these elementary points of logic — points that even very small children can understand — have to be made.

  3. Bill says:

    Thanks for putting the spotlight on this great book. No Kirby collection is complete without it.

  4. Sigh.

    One doesn’t evaluate the quality of a sale price by the revenue the purchase generates 40 years later.

    Sigh.

    Marvel as a company has had dramatic ups and downs over that time. By the mid-’70s, less than ten years after Sheldon Feinberg had purchased the company from Goodman, he was actively looking to completely shut down the publishing operations. According to James Galton, who became Marvel’s president in late 1975, the company lost approximately $2 million during the first half of that year. Just about every knowledgeable observer, from Sean Howe on, is of the view that had it not been for the success of Marvel’s Star Wars movie adaptation, the publishing operations would have ended in 1977.

    There wasn’t much money coming in from licensing back then, either. For example, in 1976 the television rights to Spider-Man, the Hulk, and ten other characters proved to be worth all of $12,500 to Marvel. That’s what Universal paid for them.

    Sigh.

    Now, beginning in 1979, Marvel’s publishing fortunes improved. However, the licensing was still hit and mostly miss. But after ten years of consistent growth, Ronald Perelman’s Andrews Group purchased it in 1989 for $82.5 million. Adjusted for inflation, that’s approximately $155 million in today’s dollars.

    That’s right. Twenty-two years after Martin Goodman sold the company, its value had increased all of 55 percent.

    Sigh.

    But let’s talk about the downs again. In 1995, Marvel lost approximately $48 million and laid off 275 people, approximately 40% of their workforce.

    Sigh.

    In 1996, Marvel filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

    Sigh.

    Marvel’s recent success is due to movie adaptations that until about 15 years ago were not technologically possible. In many instances, the technology necessary to make them was developed with the specific projects in mind.

    Sigh.

    I don’t believe Martin Goodman could have been faulted for failing to foresee any of this, bad or good, although Jeet Heer apparently disagrees. I would hope small children are not so cognitively challenged, although if they are, they at least have hope of growing out of it.

    Sigh.

    And Jeet Heer is considered one of comics premier historians. It’s just sad.

    Sigh. Sigh. Sigh.

  5. Joe S. Walker says:

    And if the Ant-Man film does the business, Kirby’s valuation will be pretty well on the nail.

  6. Let me note that I think Martin Goodman sold the company for considerably less than he should have. According to Sean Howe, the money he got was roughly what it was grossing per year at the time. Typically, the sale price of a company is three to five times that.

    My general view of Goodman was that he did not like to haggle. His attitude towards the people who worked for him was take it or leave it, and it seems that he treated outside deals the same way. If he liked an offer, he’d take it, and if he didn’t, he’d refuse. He wasn’t inclined to negotiate.

    I think it’s fair to criticize him on that basis.

    However, characterizing the amount of money he was paid as a “pittance” or “less than the value of Ant-Man” is misleading and off-base. If hard numbers can be quoted, they should be quoted. Enough with the tropes. These have been thoroughly abused by comics commentators when talking about dollar amounts. It’s gotten to the point that when I see tropes of this sort, my reaction is that the writer is being deceitful.

  7. Jeet Heer says:

    I’m sorry but saying “Martin Goodman sold the company for considerably less than he should have” is almost synonymous with saying he sold it for a pittance. So the argument you are having is with yourself. As for the ups-and-downs of Marvel’s history, I think the Washington Post analogy holds. It was a long time after the 1933 purchase that the Washington Post became really profitably, decades before it became the powerhouse paper it became in the 1970s. Still, it’s fairly standard to say that Eugene Meyer got it for bargain basement prices and to admire those who had the foresight to buy stock in the company early (Warren Buffet’s decision to buy stock in the Washington Post in the 1950s or so is often cited as an example of his foresight. If Buffet had bought Marvel in circa 1969 for $15 million, that would have become another part of legend of Buffet’s sagacity). You can complain all you want about “tropes” but you shouldn’t be surprised why someone might think that $15 million in 1969 or so was a low price.

  8. Jasper Sitwell says:

    Maybe these things are easier in hindsight but history did show that Marvel’s uniquely intricate mythology was potentially a great moneymaker, and the signs that it could be were there in the successes of the late sixties (James Bond, the Batman TV show) as was a dedicated Marvel fanbase and a sense that they had already captured part of the cultural zeitgeist. My impression is that their relative lack of success in other media before the superhero movie boom of the 2000s had a lot more to do with a series of crummy deals than any serious problem with the technology at hand. Hollywood has done well with effects-driven films and fantastical characters for as long as it’s been in business, and the effects are always laughable until they’re sold with some storytelling flair.

  9. Kirk G says:

    This review starts out very wisely stating for all to hear that Captain America and Marvel Comics per se DO NOT APPEAR in this book. This is the rare pulp art from the myrid of companies that were the predecessor to Timely/Marvel comics. The artwork is dramatic, dark, and in some cases, borders on the good side of porn. There are clear examples of good girl art, BSDM and bondage, but it’s all in documentation of this long gone period when men’s periodicals were just “accepted” and they fueled men’s fantasies before Playboy and Penthouse came along.

    As stated above, no Kirby collection is complete without it, but don’t expect this to be about comic books or innoscense…. this is pre-morality and baby boomer sanitized fantasy became the norm. These were the pulp origins of the modern comic book industry.

    Of special note are two illustrations near the extreme end of the book, near the references. One shows a staggered, tiered skyscrapper, with various cubes and butresses supporting the larger blocks…all labled with names of Martin Goodman’s various companies…. all leading upward toward Timely and ultimately Marvel… What this is based upon, what research or examination of the facts remains to be seen…but the collossal imagry is great, showing how complex a publishing world he operated.

    Second is a simple diagram of three smaller gears all turning as a result of the initial larger drive gear. Each of the three smaller gears represent Archie, DC/National and Timely/Marvel and clearly show how each of the three major comics publishing houses stemed from the apprentiship of the parent publishing effort at the start of the industry. It’s very illuminating in its simplicity.

  10. Robert Boyd says:

    Surely you mean something like five times free cash flow, not five times gross revenue.

  11. Jeet–

    If your attitude is that the equivalent of $100 million in today’s dollars constitutes a “pittance,” that’s your problem, not mine. I think Goodman should have held out for more, but there’s no indication he would have been able to get more. He wasn’t fielding multiple offers. He did get a handsome sum nonetheless.

    By your metric, you would have been saying in 1976 that Sheldon Feinberg made a bad buy. And in the late ’90s, you would have been saying Goodman was really damned lucky to have gotten rid of Marvel for the money he did.

    Oh, and if Marvel was so obviously valuable, why didn’t Disney buy it back during that bankruptcy period, when they could have most likely paid a lot less than the $4 billion they spent in 2009. Sony and Time-Warner both looked into the company at the time and decided it wasn’t worth taking over.

    As for money, well, the value of it can be very relative. For instance, Mitt Romney said $300,000 or so a year in speaking fees was not very much money. That’s why I want concrete numbers. Then we know exactly what’s being talked about, and everyone can make up their own minds.

  12. Tucker Stone says:

    Ain’t no party like a Jeet versus Robert Stanley Martin party cuz a Jeet versus Robert Stanley Martin party never

    ever

    ever

    ever

    ever

    stops

  13. That should have been three to five times earnings before interest and taxes, not gross. Thinking about it, Goodman probably got pretty close to the price he should have at the time.

  14. patrick ford says:

    I guess my Kirby collection isn’t complete because I don’t have this book and nothing in the review convinces me I’d have an interest in it.

  15. R. Fiore says:

    If you’re going to fault Goodman as a businessman you wouldn’t point to the sale of his company so much as the sucker deals he made with the movie business or people purporting to be in the movie business, which debased the value of the company for years to come. The business he knew was the magazine business. The first time the company was sold after Goodman was in 1986. Goodman died in 1992, and his son died in 1996, so they wouldn’t have had that much time to enjoy the money if they’d held on until then. You can’t discount the possibility that Cadence built value in the company in the years they owned it. In those years for one thing you had the emergence of the whole X-Men phenomenon. You also had the emergence of the big money superhero movie. The company didn’t get the valuation it has now until it had been kicked around by some big financial machers, who among other things undertook the Herculean task of cleaning up the mess Goodman had made of the media rights.

    As for Goodman, I think you can see his regrets in the fact that he started another comics company after he left Marvel as publisher. Even then, it was probably less dissatisfaction in the price he got than that he missed being the owner more than he thought he would, and wasn’t as avid for retirement as he thought he might be.

  16. Jeet Heer says:

    “If you’re going to fault Goodman as a businessman you wouldn’t point to the sale of his company so much as the sucker deals he made with the movie business or people purporting to be in the movie business, which debased the value of the company for years to come.” I agree with this. Or to reframe it slightly one could argue that Marvel was undervalued for many years because it lacked both the capital and expertise to fully develop its most valuable asset (the intellectual properties mainly created by Jack Kirby and Steve Ditko). The buying-and-selling of Marvel took place against this background of under-capitalization. It’s only recently that it’s been in the hands of people who have the resources to fully develop the intellectual property (fully develop in terms of profit, not of course in terms of aesthetic value).

  17. Alex Jay says:

    Three of Artie’s sports cartoons and biographical information are at my blog, Tenth Letter of the Alphabet, http://alphabettenthletter.blogspot.com/2013/01/creator-artie-simek.html

  18. Bill says:

    Aesthetics aren’t subjective?! Well that explains why we all like the same things.

  19. R. Maheras says:

    There’s no frickin’ way Marvel’s revenue in 1969 was $15 million. Do the math, people.

    And Steranko, in an interview by Gary Groth in Fantastic Fanzine #12, explained the economics of the comics business at that time. Most Marvel books were clearing about $1,000 in profit after costs were deducted.

  20. The sale was for more than just Marvel. It was for all of Magazine Management, including puzzle books, cheesecake mags, and so forth. I gather the comics were a small percentage of the business, although they’re the only part that’s still around.

  21. patrick ford says:

    The date of Martin Ackerman’s purchase of Magazine Management keeps getting pushed back.
    Most books and articles say the purchase took place in September of 1968.

    A blogger named Nick Caputo recently posted a cut from a June, 1968 issue of a fanzine called ON THE DRAWING BOARD which announces the sale of Marvel to Martin Ackerman the owner of Perfect Film, and Curtis Publishing.
    That would seem to place the sale in April or May of 1968.

    CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN #12 was published in late 1967 (Oct. – Nov.) and carried a Jan. 1968 date on the contents page. That issue contains the interview where Stan Lee credits Kirby with creating the Silver Surfer.

    Coincidentally In the COF interview Ted White briefly mentions Simon and Kirby had created The Blue Bolt for Novelty Press a division of Curtis.

    In his book THE CURTIS AFFAIR Martin Ackerman says he acquired Magazine Management before he even began looking at purchasing Curtis. Negotiations with Curtis began on March 2, 1968. It may be Ackerman acquired Magazine Management earlier than is generally thought based on reporting in fanzines and magazines which probably are sourced from an Ackerman press release.

  22. R, Maheras says:

    Correction: The interview was in “Fantastic Fanzine” #11.

    Marvel was selling 50 million comic books a year in 1968, and while that sounds impressive, once one examines the financial realities of comic book publishing during that era, in most cases, for successful books, Goodman was actually making a pre-tax profit that was less than he was paying his creative staff on each title.

    Multiplying 50 million times the cover price in 1968 — 12 cents — and the revenue generated by those sales comes to $6 million. Strip away the printing costs, retailer cut, distributor cut, creative staff cut, etc., and, by my rough estimate, Goodman had a pre-tax profit of about $240,000.

    Goodman, like any publisher in the days before the Direct Market had to upfront printer and talent costs of more than $20,000 per title before one penny of profit would be earned IF the book was successful. And in either case, no money would start coming in until roughly three months after the book went on sale.

    And the profit margins per successful issue was extremely thin compared to the original financial outlay — in the vicinity of about $1,000 per issue.

    This is why so few creators were publishers, and those that DID try it, found out real quick how difficult it was. It’s also why the majority of creator-publishers were miserable failures.

  23. patrick ford says:

    CASTLE OF FRANKENSTEIN #12 carries a Jan. 1968 date on the contents page.
    The recent STAN LEE UNIVERSE book claims “This interview first appeared in 1965’s Castle of Frankenstein
    #12. Note how it was so early in the Marvel Age that the cover
    bills it as an “Interview with Marvel Comics.”
    Apparently whoever wrote that comment isn’t very observant because the blurb on the cover reads “Interview with Marvel Comics’ STAN LEE.”
    http://horrorpediadotcom.files.wordpress.com/2013/04/castle-of-frankenstein-12.gif?w=441&h=561

  24. patrick ford says:

    Ken Meyer has a pdf of FANTASTIC FANZINE #11 here:
    http://www.kenmeyerjr.com/fanzines/FF11.pdf

  25. R. Maheras says:

    I want to foot-stomp this for all of those people who accused Goodman of unfairly underpaying his freelancers: Because the profit margin for comics were so thin, in most cases — even on many of his successful Silver Age books — it is quite likely that the creative staff, and often the penciler alone, made more money on a given issue than did Goodman. Goodman made his money by volume of titles, and by carefully monitoring each issue’s circulation to see when it became a liability.

    The allegations of Goodman promising licensing residuals and never paying up — if true — is a totally separate issue.

  26. Allen Smith says:

    I suspect that Goodman did miss being a publisher. Don’t know how much of his starting up Atlas in the ’70s was motivated by revenge on Marvel and Stan Lee for having given son Chip the boot.

  27. george says:

    “Goodman died rich, while the artists who worked for him did not, and the moral injustice of this outcome is the shadow hanging over this book.”

    Publishers always die richer than their employees. That’s true in any field. At most newspapers, the only wealthy person in the building is the publisher. Might as well complain that William Randolph Hearst died wealthier than his reporters and editors, or complain because the sky is blue.

  28. Robert Boyd says:

    Don’t confuse revenue with net income.

  29. Jeet Heer says:

    “Publishers always die richer than their employees. That’s true in any field. At most newspapers, the only wealthy person in the building is the publisher. Might as well complain that William Randolph Hearst died wealthier than his reporters and editors, or complain because the sky is blue.” Several layers of nonsense here. For one thing, authors like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King are much wealthier than any individual publisher. For that matter Charles Schulz was richer than almost any newspaper publisher (in fact maybe was wealthier than any). Herge was wealthier than his publishers. For that matter, William Randolph Hearst didn’t make his fortune as a publisher, he inherited it from his parents (who owned silver mines). Hearst nearly went bankrupt in the 1930s (and was saved by some stock shenanigans). And Hearst, unlike Goodman, paid his writers and cartoonists well. Cartoonists like Herriman and Alex Raymond became quite well-to-do working for Hearst — very different than the situation at Marvel. To say “might as well complain…because the sky is blue” implies that the way Marvel operated was just by following the laws of nature. But that’s not true: Marvel was a human enterprise and could have operated differently. To get health care, Jack Kirby had to leave comics and work for a bottom-of-the-barrel animation company (which still had better coverage than Marvel provided). Businesses are human enterprises and can be run in different ways. As it happens, Goodman’s way of running his company involved exploiting his freelancers. Not all companies run on that principle.

  30. R. Maheras says:

    Who is mixing up revenue with net income?

    50 million comics times 12 cents is $6 million. That’s Goodman’s revenue in 1968. After all the deductions for operating expenses, retailer cut, distributor cut and printer’s bill, I estimate Goodman’s net income was about $240,000.

    My guesstimate was based on 12 issues each of 20 titles. In actuality, I’m pretty sure that because there were some bi-monthly comics in the mix, it was actually less.

    With this estimated baseline of 240 issues, Goodman’s profit was roughly $1,000 per issue — which is about the amount Steranko stated in his 1970 interview.

    This means that, since Jack Kirby was making about $1,200 for every issue he penciled circa 1968 ($60 a page x 20 pages), he was making more money on a given issue than Goodman was.

    And this reality most certainly repeated itself over and over. For lower circulation titles like Kid Colt, Goodman’s profit per issue was probably in the mid- to high-hundreds, depending on the sell-through percentage versus the print run costs.

    So claims that Goodman was ripping off his creative staff on their page rates is unfair — especially when taken in context of the comic book market realities of 1968. The post-Batman TV show comics boom was over, and you can bet that Goodman saw his circulation spike leveling off a bit. In addition, licensing money for comic book characters in 1968 were nothing compared to publishing income. And Goodman, in his wildest dreams, had no idea his stable of characters would ever have any significant value.

    Goodman was no dummy, which is why he sold Magazine Management Company (which included Marvel Comics) when he did.

  31. R. Maheras says:

    Jeet — See my comment above: “This means that, since Jack Kirby was making about $1,200 for every issue he penciled circa 1968 ($60 a page x 20 pages), he was making more money on a given issue than Goodman was.”

    Goodman averaged about $1,000 an issue profit in 1968. Kirby was paid about $1,200 an issue for pencils in 1968.

    How is that “exploitation”?

    In fact, I’d be willing to bet that on a per issue basis, Kirby was probably making double what Lee was — even though Lee was getting both writer and editor pay.

    And no one, to my knowledge, has even looked into whether or not any of Goodman’s employees had health insurance in 1968. And if his company had no health plan, that means Goodman had to pay for his own health care like everybody else.

    Of all the charges I’ve seen leveled at Goodman, the only one I think he may be guilty of is promising secondary royalties to one or more artists for the “Marvel Super Heroes” cartoon series, and then not delivering.

  32. Jeet Heer says:

    @R. Maheras. Your argument rests on the assumption that the only economic value of Kirby’s work came from the immediate income generated on an issue by issue basis. This assumption is patently absurd, a piece of special pleading that grows out of your desire to defend corporate policy. The value of the word Jack Kirby did was not just the income it generated per issue. Let’s be clear about this: Jack Kirby was the main creator of the Marvel universe, far and away more important than anyone else in terms of conceptualizing the universe, in populating it with both heroes and villains, in starting new titles that would then be taken over by other artists. Other artists contributed their share, but it was Kirby who laid the foundation and drew up the architectural plans. What that means is that morally (if not legally) Kirby was entitled to an ownership stake in the Marvel universe. Instead he got a freelancers wage. When Goodman was able to sell Marvel comics for $15 million (or rather, a sizable chunk of $15 million minus the worth of the other magazines) it was overwhelmingly because of the contribution Kirby made. Let’s imagine an alternative universe where Kirby had left comics in the late 1950s, perhaps to go into advertising like Joe Simon or animation like Alex Toth. In such a universe it’s likely that Kirby would have been quite a bit wealthier and better treated by his employers (the animation gig Kirby got late in life was his only happy employment situation since the salad days of “Simon and Kirby”). What’s undeniably true is that in such a universe there would have been no Marvel universe at all: not just no Fantastic Four, no Hulk, no Thor, no Avengers, no Iron Man, but also no Spider-Man (based on a concept Kirby created with Simon). Perhaps there might have been a Doctor Strange, but it wouldn’t have been part of a superhero universe, and would likely have quickly died. And in fact Marvel comics probably would have died in the 1960s, as many other comics companies did. Given all that Kirby did, the way he was treated by Marvel was shabby and the way his family is still treated by Marvel is also shabby. Why is this shabby behavior still defended by so-called comics fans? Largely I think out of a pathological brand loyalty, and also out of a tendency of some people to prefer the topdog to the underdog, to always side with corporations against workers and artists.

  33. Jeet Heer says:

    I’ll note that the fact that “sale was for more than just Marvel” and that “comics were a small percentage of the business” undercuts Robert Stanley Martin’s arguments for Martin Goodman’s sagacity. Because if true (and I accept this is true) then Goodman sold Marvel Comics for less than $15 million. How “small” is “a small percentage” — it must be less than 50% at least. So Goodman sold Marvel for $7.5. million or less. If by “small percentage” we mean 30% or 20% then Goodman sold Marvel for less than $5 million.

  34. R. Maheras says:

    Jeet wrote: “Your argument rests on the assumption that the only economic value of Kirby’s work came from the immediate income generated on an issue by issue basis. This assumption is patently absurd, a piece of special pleading that grows out of your desire to defend corporate policy.”

    Bullshit!

    In 1968, the ONLY way to measure the worth of the characters was on an issue-by-issue basis. In Goodman’s eyes, all the characters developed up to that point in time had almost no value outside of the revenue that was generated by the comics on a month-to-month basis.

    Your assertion that Kirby was owed ownership in Marvel is what’s totally absurd here — and Kirby, who himself had worn the publisher’s hat, would be the first person to tell you that, if he were still around.

    And the way you wave off Kirby’s pay as merely “freelancers wage” — as if it was some minimum wage pittance — is politically-driven revisionist nonsense.

    For a given issue, Kirby’s take was more than the publisher’s.

    I repeat, for a given issue, Kirby’s take was more than the publisher’s.

    And Kirby got his page rate regardless if the book bombed. In 1968, Goodman had to upfront about $25,000 per issue, including all the creative staff pay, and if all went well, his return on investment would be $1,000 more than he started with.

    Kirby was no fool. He knew exactly what the deal was in 1968, and he took it. In fact, from 1958 to 1969 or so, Kirby EMBRACED the deal.

    And no one at that time knew the Marvel characters had any long-term value. I’m sure that, based on previous historical comic book cycles, most (including Kirby) felt the superheroes boom was a fad – a fad to be milked until it faded and the next one (hopefully) rolled in.

    There’s no denying Kirby was a critical part of Marvel’s Silver Age success, but he was also part of a substantial team that was just as important.

    And while people find it fashionable these days to denigrate Goodman, without his money and motivation to publish, there would have been no Marvel Age of Comics. He made the decision to keep the doors at Marvel open after the staggering bankruptcy of his distributor in the late 1950s, opting to invest the remainder of his money each month rather than sitting on his bankroll and retiring. And by keeping Marvel in play as a viable company, Goodman not only paid Kirby a decent wage, he gave him a worldwide stage with which to perform his miracles.

  35. Paul Tumey says:

    At the risk of my own sanity, I’ll weigh in, here. I appreciate you fighting valiantly to keep the record straight, Jeet. Man, it’s hard for me to understand why any informed person today would want to defend Marvel’s treatment of Jack Kirby.

    Plus, I’m not gonna accept ANYBODY’s ball-park guess-timates on a company’s financial, or on any other issue, no matter how convinced they may be of their own accuracy — it’s all made-up nonsense if you don’t have credible supporting documentation. Maybe Goodman was paying fair rates, maybe not — but without financial records available, who can say for sure?

    I do know that without Kirby, there would not be a Marvel Universe, and there wouldn’t be all that profit from the movies. It seems morally repugnant that money wasn’t shared, and credit was not properly given.

  36. R. Maheras says:

    Paul — My estimates are based on sound reasoning, and most of the data can be firmed up by anyone who believes in critical thinker.

    Anyone can verify print runs from 1968.

    Anyone can verify average monthly sales from 1968.

    Anyone can verify cover prices from 1968.

    Anyone who is serious about the truth can probably track down World Color Press printing rates from 1968, and verify my estimates — estimates I based on rates WCP quoted me seven years later.

    Anyone can piece together pay rates for creators in 1968.

    Anyone can calculate the total number of issues Marvel published in 1968.

    All the variable are out there.

    In short, my rough estimates can be verified by anyone who wishes to understand the truth.

    And Paul, what YOU fail to realize is the only part of Kirby’s relationship with Marvel that I’m discussing is how he was treated while Goodman was the owner. After 1968, Goodman no longer called the shots.

  37. Mike Catron says:

    Don’t forget that there were sources of revenue available to Goodman other than just newsstand circulation. Advertising, mail subscriptions, and overseas licensing spring immediately to mind. While any one of those might not have been a game-changer on its own, it all comes in and it all adds up. It doesn’t seem unreasonable that, if an average single issue was netting $1,000 via newsstand distribution, those other channels could have boosted that by 50% or more, possibly in some cases even doubling it.

    As for the perceived value of comic book properties by low-end publishers, herewith a little story. I have it on good authority that when Charlton finally closed down their comics business and sold most of it to DC, they calculated their price by charging $10 a page for the film. This was maybe 15 years or more after Goodman sold Marvel.

    But DC didn’t buy everything. When I showed up to look things over and they quoted me the same rate, I pointed out that DC had already cherry-picked everything and the remaining pickings were slim. I got everything I wanted for $5 a page.

  38. D.D. says:

    The sky has been blue for two billion years; the economic system you’re describing has existed for a mere five hundred. Given your lack of perspective, why should we listen to a thing you have to say about justice?

  39. D.D. says:

    Simple. Kirby produced, while Goodman made money passively from it, hand over fist. That is what exploitation means.

  40. Tony Montano says:

    What The Secret! Good review and comic art

  41. R. Maheras says:

    Made money “passively”? More “us versus them” politically motivated bullshit again. Plenty of creator-publishers tried to make money “passively” the same way as Goodman and failed miserably until the Direct Market shifted all of the risks to the retailer.

  42. R. Maheras says:

    Mike — All of that was small potatoes in 1968, and you neglected to consider the fixed costs besides the creative staff. Things like non-creative staff salaries, rent, utilities, supplies, production-related costs (photostats, et al).

  43. R. Maheras says:

    What I find interesting about much of these discussions is it shows that despite all the fanboy sleuthing and interviews over the past 60 years is how little the economics of the industry — both before and after the Direct Market — have been examined. Guess such things aren’t as sexy as who created what.

  44. Jeet Heer says:

    @R. Maheras. “I repeat, for a given issue, Kirby’s take was more than the publisher’s.” Again, this would only make sense if the economic value of any given Marvel comic was discrete, and only existed on an issue-by-issue basis. But Marvel comics featured continuing characters existing in a shared universe. You might want to dismiss Kirby as just one cog in the wheel, a part of the “team” but there is ample evidence that he was the creative heart and soul of that team, the driving engine without whom the Marvel universe would not exist. If you are not familiar with that evidence, Charles Hatfield provides an excellent summary of it in his book Hand of Fire.

    It might help if I spell this out for you. It was very common in the 1960s for Kirby to create a character or a team, draw some issues so that the narrative universe of the team is established, and then return to his main comics (The Fantastic Four, Thor, etc.) while the character and team he created was taken over by someone else. In effect, Kirby planted the seeds that others tended. Kirby did that with the Hulk, the Avengers, and the X-Men, among many others. What this means is that the value of what Kirby was contributing to Marvel was more than the one-time income generated by a comic — the value came from the totality of the universe Kirby created.

  45. R. Maheras says:

    Jeet – I read “Hand of Fire,” and I’ve been studying Kirby for more than 45 years. I was an expert on his contributions before you were in diapers, so don’t presume to lecture me.

    You have clearly demonstrated you have almost no understanding of Silver Age comic book economics, and what’s most frightening is you don’t even seem to care.

    All, of your suggested “value” of the characters in 1968 is nonsense, and does not jive with the market realities Goodman was looking at through his economic paradigm. It also does not jive with the value and cycles that comic books had seen up to that point in time.

    Do you know anything at all about Marvel’s licensing income from 1968? Does anyone? Why isn’t it common knowledge. Worse, why the hell hasn’t anyone even tried to find out?

    I’ll wager it was negligible. Which means that, from Goodman’s point of view, profit from the sales of the comics each month was the only significant profit. And if a character was not in a appearing regularly in a comic book that was profitable, it HAD no value to Goodman. When the Hulk comic book was cancelled, the Hulk had no value to Goodman until the Hulk later returned in “Tales to Astonish.” And while it was cancelled after Goodman had sold the company, ditto for the X-Men when their book was cancelled in 1970.

  46. Jeet Heer says:

    @R. Maheras. Given your 45 years of studying Kirby and the fact that you’ve read “Hand of Fire,” you’ll know that much of what you’ve written here simply isn’t so. Kirby was not just a member of a team at Marvel but rather was integral to the creation of the Marvel universe. As for me having “almost no understanding of Silver Age comic book economics, and what’s most frightening is you don’t even seem to care.” I would say that this is true not just for me but for everyone. We don’t understand as much about the economics of comics as we would like. Why? Because Marvel and other companies are private concerns and have no archive. So it is very hard to get accurate, documented information about how much money people were paid, how much books cost to produce, how much revenue was generated. By contrast, when I’m writing about Frank King, I can actually look at his tax returns (which his family has kept). So, yes, I would like to know more than I do. Some historians — Sean Howe most notably — have done stellar work in reconstructing the business history of Marvel but much remains unknown. What I’m not comfortable with is making surmises and guesses based on a few loose numbers floating around. Sadly what you’ve provided here are 1) a bunch of hunches and 2) a persistent tendency to downgrade Kirby’s contribution (despite the available evidence to the contrary). I’m sorry but that’s not enough to convince me. You may call this lecturing but I think all I’m doing is being justifiably skeptical.

  47. patrick ford says:

    Jeet, I think you might make your arguments more effective if you could strut around and bellow “BULLSHIT!!!” while making them.

  48. R. Maheras says:

    I understand what Kirby’s role was at Marvel. And being an artist myself, and knowing how the Marvel Method worked, I also have a pretty good idea what contributions Kirby made.

    But the fact remains that without the stage that Goodman provided for Kirby; and without Stan’s soap opera writing style, savvy editorial chops, and rah-rah Marvel boosterism; and without the contributions of Ditko, Heck, Lieber, Ayers, Sinnott, Simek, Rosen and everyone else; There would have never been a Marvel Age of Comics.

    Regarding comic book economics, I just laid the groundwork above for answering a lot of questions about Silver Age Marvel. Perhaps one of these days some enterprising young historian will nail down the available data I cited, plug in the numbers, and see how close my estimates were.

    Or perhaps someone can contact the Goodman family and ASK if anyone has any historical economic data from the 1960s or earlier. Iden Goodman — Chip Goodman’s older brother — is still around and living in Berkeley. He’d be a good starting point.

    But any historians who do better curb their bullshit “workers vs. management” prejudices first.

  49. R. Maheras says:

    Pat — Why don’t you channel your research efforts into finding out the actual facts, not just cherry-picked facts that back up your preconceived notions.

  50. Jeet Heer says:

    Let’s try this: “I understand what Nabokov’s role was in the publication history of Lolita. And being a writer myself and knowing how to type, I have a pretty good idea what contributions Nabokov made.
    But the fact remains that without the stage that Girodias’s Olympia press provided, without the rah-rah publicity of Olympia Press’s publicity department, without the contribution of the printers and book binders and everyone else, there would never have been any Lolita. Which is why Girodias and Olympia press deserve to have copyright on Lolita and Nabokov deserves no ownership stake in the book. He was very amply paid, much better than most freelancers of his time. Anyone who says otherwise is engaged in ‘workers versus management’ propaganda.”

  51. R. Maheras says:

    Jeet — C’mon… who are you trying to kid? We’re not talking a finished novel here.

    Kirby had a lot of creative guidance and a lot of input from Stan in the early stages of the Marvel Silver Age. There may even have been some directives from Goodman — directives that Stan couldn’t argue his way out of. And regardless of what pages were turned in, Lee wrote the dialogue and orchestrated the editorial direction.

    Ditko explained how his story conferences went with Stan during the early stages of Spider-Man — before the two ceased speaking to each other circa 1965. Lee never put much thought into continuity, or what should come next. He’d say something like, “Let’s make Attuma the villain,” and Ditko would talk him out of it. Lee had similar discussions with Kirby early on as well with probably every single title he worked on.

    Do you think Kirby just walked in one day with a finished X-Men #1 under his arm and said, “Surprise!” to Lee? Or a completed, sight unseen “Sgt. Fury and his Howling Commandos” #1? Or a un-discussed issue of “Avengers” #1? Hell no. There were discussions, and ideas flying around. Some of them probably stuck, some probably didn’t. And I’m sure there were times Kirby forgot what suggested plot (perhaps intentionally on purpose, like Ditko) and only used part of the ideas.

    At some point on Fantastic Four and Amazing Spider-Man, once he was confident everyone was on the same page, Lee gave his artists much more leeway. My guess it happened sometime in 1963, when things started heating up, production-wise — especially with the addition to the Marvel lineup of the large-sized annuals. There was simply no time for long conferences. However, there’s no way that adding new titles to the lineup could have been a hands-off situation for Lee. Goodman had to expend a huge amount of money for any new title, and if you think that happened without any supervision, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn I want to sell you.

    It was a team effort.

  52. Jeet Heer says:

    @R. Maheras — my invocation of Nabokov’s was not made lightly. Look up the controversy between Nabokov & Girodias and you’ll see partisans of Girodas making the same arguments you are (that because he took the risk of publishing Lolita he was as crucial as Nabokov). If you don’t like that example, consider the many literary novels where the editors and publishers were much more hands on than Goodman and Lee were with regard to Kirby. Max Perkins would take manuscripts from Tom Wolfe that were 300,000 words long and edit them down to 60,000 words, moving around chapters. Or consider the radical surgery Gordon Lish performed on the fiction of Raymond Carver, so that the early drafts (which have since been published) are almost entirely different than the final versions. Yet no one doubts that Wolfe and Carver were the authors, deserved their names on their books and copyright of the books. Even aside from cases like Lish and Perkins, in literary publishing editing is often much heavier than in comics. I know a novelist who said his editor spent as much time reshaping his novel as he himself did.

    The point being that in many creative fields, the creation of a work of art is a matter of teamwork, yet still its possible to find a primary artist and give him/her adequate compensation, a copyright stake, and recognition. In Kirby’s case, all this was denied him.

    Lee did contributed to the dialogue and captions of course (following the notes written by Kirby). But that’s a mixed contribution. Some people (like yourself) like Lee’s writing but others find it irritating, mannered and dated.

    As for Goodman’s creative (as opposed to financial) contribution, I’ll note that prior to Kirby’s arrival, Timely/Atlas/Marvel specialized in being a knock-off house. If horror was big, they did horror knock-offs; if Archie was big, they did Archie knock-offs, if Mad was big, they did Mad knock-offs; when superheroes were big, they did superhero knock -offs. But it’s in the last case that the story changes, because suddenly and for the first time Marvel started doing comics that were more than shallow knock-offs, comics that had originality and worth. It seems like Goodman’s original instructions were something like “Do a Justice League knock-off or a Challengers of the Unknown knock-off or even a Sea Devils knock-off.” But the comics that Kirby and Lee created were more than knock-offs. The X factor that made them different was Kirby. He was incapable of being an imitator. Everything he touched had his own touch. That’s why he made Marvel comics a qualitatively different company that before. And that’s why his creative contribution was far more important than Goodman or Lee.

  53. R. Fiore says:

    I like the story Sean Howe tells about when James Galton was the publisher and Jim Shooter was the editor in chief. John Byrne was having creative conflicts with Shooter and figures he’ll go over Shooter’s head. He marches into Galton’s office and spends a half an hour venting and explaining how his way of doing things would be better. He leaves the office thinking he’s given a good account of himself. Galton picks up the phone, calls Shooter and asks, “Who the hell is John Byrne?”

  54. Given that we’re talking about these subjects from a business standpoint, there’s a crucial difference between Nabokov and Kirby’s situations. Regardless of the degree of editing Nabokov may or may not have been subjected to, at the end of the day he was a principal in an author-publisher business partnership with Olympia Press. Jack Kirby, regardless of the extent of his contributions, was a for-hire pieceworker employed by Marvel to help put together company publications.

    People can play the game of Desperately Seeking Loopholes all they want in an effort to deny that about Kirby. The fact remains that this was found to be the business relationship between him and Marvel by a federal district court judge and reaffirmed unanimously by the three judges who reviewed the determination on appeal. The judges found the situation so unambiguous that there was no point in having a trial. The efforts by the Kirby heirs to terminate Marvel’s copyrights in the foundational Marvel publications was essentially declared a frivolous nuisance action.

    And before Patrick or someone else chimes in with, “B-b-b-but Stan Lee lied about who created the characters,” the issue of who originated what was completely irrelevant to the judges’ determination. It didn’t matter any more here than it did in the Marv Wolfman suit, where there was no question that Wolfman created Blade and so forth. As the district court judge said in the Kirby decision, “[T]his case is not about whether Jack Kirby or Stan Lee is the real ‘creator’ of Marvel characters, or whether Kirby (and other freelance artists who created culturally iconic comic book characters for Marvel and other publishers) were treated ‘fairly’ by companies that grew rich off the fruit of their labor. It is about whether Kirby’s work qualifies as work-for-hire under the Copyright Act of 1909.”

    You fancy yourself a historian, Jeet. I always thought the purpose of historians was to help people understand what happened and why. The important thing to understand when discussing Kirby’s business relationship with Marvel was how it differed from, say, the one between Nabokov and Olympia Press. Instead, we see aspects of Nabokov’s circumstances used to launch a bunch of sophistry intended to argue against a legal determination you consider unjust. I really have no idea what the practical benefit of this is supposed to be. It’s not going to change anything, and it obfuscates what happened far more than it clarifies. All it amounts to is preening.

  55. Mike Hunter says:

    It would be nice if every person wanting to add some perspective on the business side to the “Kirby vs. Marvel” debate were not automatically tarred as a “defender of corporate exploitation, who believes that artists should be bled try”…

    Oh, well!

    For the record, Jack Kirby should have lived his late years and died a multi-millionaire. Yet it’s easy with Marvel movies taking in hundreds of millions in the box office, to forget that Kirby’s entire oeuvre, was for most of its existence virtually unknown to the public at large, which would have dismissed it as disposable kiddie fare. That in that span, as a corporation, Marvel was hardly a behemoth.

    (So, Marvel didn’t offer health insurance to its employees, mostly freelancers? There are plenty of far wealthier companies which don’t. Doesn’t mean it’s right, merely that the company is hardly uniquely evil.)

    ———————–
    D.D. says:

    Simple. Kirby produced, while Goodman made money passively from it, hand over fist. That is what exploitation means.
    ————————-

    That’s all that being a publisher is; just sitting back “passively” and raking in the loot, while the artists do 100% of the work!

    If that’s the case, why, as Russ pointed out, is it that “so few creators were publishers, and those that DID try it, found out real quick how difficult it was. It’s also why the majority of creator-publishers were miserable failures”?

    And how anyone can read John Hilgart’s fine write-up and conclude that Goodman — flaws and all — just sat on his butt and counted his millions, is baffling.

  56. R. Maheras says:

    Mike — I absolutely agree. In a different time and place, it would have been entirely appropriate for Kirby to have reaped countless riches for his creations. The same goes for other artistic geniuses like Vincent van Gogh. But such was not the case. Yet I’m thankful Kirby had the stage that he did, and that I was able to personally see him perform and grow as an artist. I’m also thankful that he has a legion of followers who will keep his memory and accomplishment alive for future generations to enjoy. That, not money, is his true legacy.

  57. I can only speak for myself, but I’m firmly of the view that Kirby and his estate ideally would be receiving royalties from Marvel from the licensing and so forth. If he’d come along 20 years later, they would be. But that’s not the case. All we can do is try to understand the business and legal circumstances dictating the way things are.

    Kirby had the option of participating in Marvel’s health insurance plan per his 1975 contract. If he didn’t sign up for it that’s on him, not Marvel. Given his income from that contract–approximately a quarter-million a year after adjusted for inflation–he should have been able to afford private insurance if Marvel hadn’t offered it. Jeet doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Oh, and calling Hanna-Barbera or Ruby-Spears “bottom-of-the-barrel” animation studios in the context of a discussion about business and compensation is really off-base. They were probably the two biggest producers of TV animation in the country at the time, and all accounts I’ve seen are that they paid the people who worked for them quite well.

  58. Mike Hunter says:

    However far-from-ideal (to put it mildly) the situation of creators working in the mainstream comics mills, those companies enabled many talents to actually make a living — in the case of Kirby and many others, for a lifetime — working full-time at an art form they loved, being creative. As opposed to office or assembly-line work.

    Consider the far tinier portion of people who can actually make a living working for alt/arts comics publishers. For all their often admirable ethics and respect for creators and their rights, the money those bring in doesn’t exactly encourage a writer/artist to “quit their day job.”

    Why, a few years ago, I read that only about a hundred novelists in England could support themselves solely by their writing!

    Couldn’t find a link to those stats, but here’s a survey on “How Writers Support Themselves”:
    ————–
    43% of the writers support themselves through non-writing-related jobs…and 41% support themselves through a writing-related job like teaching, editing, or writing. Another 32% write freelance articles for newspapers and magazines, 28% are supported by a partner or spouse, 17% make a living freelance editing, and 14% support themselves by selling books (this includes both advances and royalties), and 3% (two people) are independently wealthy.
    ————–
    http://meghanward.com/blog/2011/01/18/survey-results-how-writers-support-themselves/

    On a related “Big Comics Publishers Aren’t Necessarily Satan” vein:

    ————–
    Steve Bissette says:
    If you had told the Bissette of 1990 that he’d never see a dime on any work done with Alan save the work-for-hire collaborative ventures we’d already put behind us by 1990, the Bissette of 1990 would have laughed and spit and ranted about the evils of work-for-hire.
    ————-
    http://comicsbeat.com/how-alan-moore-killed-a-1963-reprint-for-all-time/

  59. Ed Gauthier says:

    I’ll take a rare break from my usual self-imposed lurking here, mainly just to mention that it’s hilarious to see some people still trying to use that tired old Edgar Cayce At The Stock Market gambit, as a substitute for proper fiscal planning to guide business dealings.

    No one could have known at any point during the 1960s era what might happen with their comic book properties in an entirely different field (the movie biz) a half decade later, let alone a half century later.

    Many men in 1918 right after WWI ended may have successfully gambled that a brighter future would shine on them in the 1920s market – but then came 1929.

    True, you can embark upon a flight of fancy to muse “there could be no Lolita without its publisher” or “no Marvel Age without its publisher.” But by the same such flight, one could also wonder “what if some different publishers had come along and boosted such creative artists even further?” So that’s truly a dead end in the reasoning department.

    BTW, you know who REALLY made the big bucks in publishing during the pre-computer days of the 1900s? The guys who owned all the paper and ink warehouses!

  60. R, Maheras says:

    Harvey Kurtzman is a perfect example of a creator-publisher and/or editor failing repeatedly during the pre-Direct Market days. Kurtzman’s failures may have been due to blind envy, hubris, poor planning, bad luck, or a combination of all four.

    It no doubt drove Kurtzman nuts that Bill Gaines was reaping the majority of the benefits from the success of “Mad,” which is probably why he eventually gave Gaines the ultimatum: Give him a controlling ownership share of “Mad,” or he’s walking out. Gaines didn’t, so Kurtzman did.

    But the reason “Mad” was a success went far beyond Kurtzman, and Kurtzman apparently didn’t get that. Gaines handed Kurtzman the financing, the super-critical pre-established stage (a ready-made distribution network), and a stable of talent few companies in the history of comics have ever possessed.

    So when Kurtzman later tried, with the help and extra financial backing of a few of his artist buddies, publishing a single comic book, “Humbug,” he walked into a situation where it was practically a guarantee he would fail once the start-up money ran out.

    In the mid-1970s, while putting together my plans to create an independent comic book company, it was clear to me that with the thin profit margins inherent in the comic book publishing model from that era, even if I did all of the art, writing and lettering myself, I needed a big hit to make more money per year than I was making at my union warehouse worker job. It became clear to me that to make it work, I needed to publish not one, but at least three successful titles. If even one of those three tanked, it could drag down the whole company.

    Kurtzman, by contrast, had one single book where the profit had to be split several ways – a situation that was simply untenable. I think Jack Davis sensed that when he declined to be a partner in “Humbug,” but agreed to contribute on a paid freelancer basis. There simply wasn’t enough profit pie to go around.

    I think Kirby, who had been a publisher himself in the past, knew how risky the business could be and eventually settled comfortably into a paid freelancer role – a position where, if he was doing work for a reputable company, he knew he’d get paid up front, so if a book later went down in flames and the publisher went out of business, at least Kirby had his money.

    That was smart thinking in its day, circa 1961 – especially considering that every single character that Kirby had created, or helped create, in the past was forgotten and had no apparent value in the 1961 comic book market. Even arguably his most popular co-creation up to that point in time, Captain America, was a dim memory in 1961, and had no apparent value.

    Hard to imagine today, eh? But that was the way it was when Kirby and Lee sat down in 1961 to create the Fantastic Four.

  61. Jeet Heer says:

    @Robert Stanley Martin “I can only speak for myself, but I’m firmly of the view that Kirby and his estate ideally would be receiving royalties from Marvel from the licensing and so forth. If he’d come along 20 years later, they would be. But that’s not the case. All we can do is try to understand the business and legal circumstances dictating the way things are. ”
    This assumes that what happened to Kirby and his estate was just the working out of the law of nature and can’t be correct. In this account, human agency plays no role. But that’s just false. To borrow a point from Tom Spurgeon: Marvel/Disney could at any time negotiate a just settlement with the Kirby Estate, just as Time Warner could negotiate a just settlement with the Siegel/Shuster estate. But humans (not the law of nature) in those positions choose not to negotiate but to litigate. And human agency extends beyond Marvel and DC. Congress could, if they wanted to, pass laws making it easier for estates to recover copyright in these cases. Fans could, if they wanted to, boycott Marvel and DC until they settle with the estates. Creators could, if they wanted to, refuse to work on projects where the original creators and their estates have been mistreated. These are all choices that can be made. Only apologists for corporate supremacy would want to pretend that his is all done and settled, that it was simply a law of nature rather than human-made law and human-made institutions are at fault, and that these human-made institutions can’t change their policies if they wanted to.
    Also this: “Kirby had the option of participating in Marvel’s health insurance plan per his 1975 contract. If he didn’t sign up for it that’s on him, not Marvel.” The assumption being that all healthcare plans are equal and that all employers are equal, so any choice an employee makes is due to personal caprice (“that’s on him”) rather than a weighing of the options. By accounts of people who knew Kirby, he was much happier working at Ruby-Spears than at Marvel — it was one of the few happy employment situations he had since the days of “Simon and Kirby.” That surely says something, no?

  62. Mike Hunter says:

    ——————-
    Jeet Heer says:
    @Robert Stanley Martin “I can only speak for myself, but I’m firmly of the view that Kirby and his estate ideally would be receiving royalties from Marvel from the licensing and so forth. If he’d come along 20 years later, they would be. But that’s not the case. All we can do is try to understand the business and legal circumstances dictating the way things are. ”
This assumes that what happened to Kirby and his estate was just the working out of the law of nature and can’t be correct. In this account, human agency plays no role. But that’s just false.
    ——————–

    Unhh?? RSM talked about “business and legal circumstances,” and you interpret that as his referring to “the law of nature,” where “human agency plays no role”? Maybe it’s me, but I see business and the law, and the legal assumptions at certain times in the past, as deeply human-created activities.

    (Now, if Martin were a Chicago School economist maintaing the “invisible hand” of the Free Market mysteriously causes the rich to keep on getting richer and everyone else to be poorer, with no human connivance at all involved, I’d be the first to sling brickbats.)

    But, he’s just saying that at that time, that was standard operating practice in the low-end comics biz. Certainly that minimizes the much-vaunted freedom to Do The Right Thing that individuals technically have; but people are creatures of their time and societies. It’s easy to condemn those money-grubbing businessmen, from this height of paradisiacal enlightenment our civilization has achieved. But if we were all well-off citizens in ancient Rome, who here would actually see slavery as a grievous wrong? Damn few.

    Incidentally, to this day there are massive discrepancies in the way writers are treated in cinema and the theater. In the latter, the word as written is sacrosanct, not one syllable to be altered without the playwright’s permission. In Hollywood, screenwriters are instead treated as peons, to be reshuffled, their scripts to be rearranged at will. As one griping screenwriter summed it up: “And what do you get out of it? A fortune!”

  63. It’s not the law of nature; it’s the law as dictated by statute and court precedent, and there’s no indication of any serious movement to change it. Mouthing off in opposition to that law in comics forums is about as impotent an action as I can think of.

    What do you consider a just settlement? Providing a middle-class pension? Marvel can do that, and that’s exactly what they did do for Roz Kirby after Jack Kirby’s death. Shortly after The Avengers movie was released, Jim Starlin was apparently able to negotiate a settlement with Marvel that he’s very happy with. He didn’t even have to threaten legal action to get it. They’re not unreasonable.

    What is unreasonable is the expectation that proprietary rights are negotiable, or, in general, that multi-million dollar payouts are possible. You are talking about a publicly traded company. They have a legally mandated fiduciary responsibility to their shareholders to work in those shareholders’ best interests, which means maximizing the monetary return on the shares. Giving up IP rights or parting with large cash sums is asset forfeiture. Marvel cannot voluntarily do that.

    These companies are not just people making arbitrary decisions. They have to operate according to certain rules. I really wish that you and Spurgeon and Gary and the rest of your little clique would wake up to that. You all seem to like your ignorance. I guess congratulating yourself on your impotent moral indignation is a lot more fun than the work of researching and understanding what is actually going on.

  64. Tim Hodler says:

    “Mouthing off in opposition to that law in comics forums is about as impotent an action as I can think of.” Yeah, Jeet, if you want to stop being so impotent and pathetic, try spending enormous amounts of time in comics forums sticking up for shareholders’ interests — that’s like magic boner juice!

    Generally speaking, I’m not much of a Freudian, but in some cases … jeez.

  65. Ah, Tim’s here to change the subject. If experience is a guide, that means he thinks Jeet has lost the argument on the substance. One hopes Jeet will take that to heart and start discussing these subjects in a more informed manner.

  66. Tim Hodler says:

    I’m not sure why pointing to the ridiculousness of your argument is changing the subject, but I’ll let experience be my guide and leave you to carry on rather than get entangled in this any further. Enjoy your potency.

  67. Jeet Heer says:

    @Mike Hunter. If you say that “All we can do is try to understand the business and legal circumstances dictating the way things are” then what you are saying is that “the way things are” can never change, that human-made laws and and human made institutions have all the force of natural laws. In that sense, Robert Stanley Martin’s argument is no different than George’s argument “complain because the sky is blue.”

  68. Mike Hunter says:

    Ah, but note that “circumstances” word:

    ———————–
    Circumstances are factors or conditions that play a part in determining an outcome. Given the current economic circumstances, a lot of good candidates just can’t find jobs.

    The word circumstances first came onto the scene in the early 13th century, meaning “conditions surrounding and accompanying an event.” The Dalai Lama advised that “In the present circumstances, no one can afford to assume that someone else will solve their problems. Every individual has a responsibility to help guide our global family in the right direction.” Wise and timeless words, no matter the present circumstances.
    ———————–
    (From vocabulary.com)

    In other words, unlike “natural laws” which are (from our human perspective, anyway) eternal and immutable, circumstances are a complex of variable factors.

    Thus, “business and legal circumstances” are highly mutable. After the Black Death, the population of Europe was drastically diminished; the labor of peasants — formerly treated like chattel — was now a relatively scarce commodity. Leading to peasants demanding more in return for their labor, Lords griping about how they’d grown insolent rather than subservient, etc.

    American workers today put up with income inequality and a lack of job security that would have been unthinkable in the 50s, when unions were strong and American manufacturing businesses hired…Americans.

    If Robert Stanley Martin is maintaining (in your characterization of his statement) “that ‘the way things are’ can never change, that human-made laws and and human made institutions have all the force of natural laws,” how come Martin says:

    “It’s not the law of nature; it’s the law as dictated by statute and court precedent,”

    “…I’m firmly of the view that Kirby and his estate ideally would be receiving royalties from Marvel from the licensing and so forth. If he’d come along 20 years later, they would be…”

  69. Jeet Heer says:

    @Mike Hunter. Your argument isn’t with me, it’s with Robert Stanley Martin. He’s the one who is both saying circumstances & laws change and also that there is no possibility of remedying circumstances and laws right now to alleviate the injustice done to Kirby and his estate (i.e. “it’s the law as dictated by statute and court precedent, and there’s no indication of any serious movement to change it”). If you say something can’t be changed and that any criticism of the status quo is impotent rage, then it’s fair to say that you think the status quo as the force of a natural law.
    @Robert Stanley Martin. “I guess congratulating yourself on your impotent moral indignation is a lot more fun than the work of researching and understanding what is actually going on.” I very much admire those who do the work of research. On this matter, Charles Hatfield and Sean Howe for the stellar research they’ve done. I haven’t seen anything on this thread that rises to the level of their work, so I don’t feel the need to accept the arguments being made.

  70. Tim–

    I wish you would point to the alleged “ridiculousness” of my argument, or otherwise contribute something of substance. As it is, all you’ve done is try to create a sideshow by criticizing my use of an adjective.

    Beyond that, I’m not defending the companies beyond trying to explicate their actions. One cannot understand a conflict unless one understands where both sides are coming from. There has been no effort to understand why Marvel or other companies take the actions they do beyond the assumption that the people running them are eeee-vil. Life is more complex than a Daredevil-vs.-the-Kingpin adventure story, and my position is that we should start treating it as such.

    As for the differences between what I’m doing and what Jeet is, I am, as I said, simply trying to explicate the status quo. I’m trying to inform, no more, no less. That’s the purpose of these articles and discussions, or so I thought. Jeet, on the other hand, is arguing for a different status quo. Does someone want to enlighten me as to how his statements in this discussion (and similar ones by others elsewhere) are going to effect that change? Do they have any pragmatic value towards that end at all? Or are they just claptrap that’s being used to pat oneself on the back over how noble one is? It sure looks like the latter to me.

    The reason I use the word “impotent” is to highlight that none of this is going to accomplish anything in terms of change. The most necessary changes–such as getting rid of the ambiguity in ostensible work-for-hire situations, or eliminating publishers’ practical arguments for owning copyrights–were made over 35 years ago with the passage and implementation of the 1976 Copyright Act. All that’s left is a steadily diminishing number of legacy situations that preceded the changes, and if our lawmakers haven’t so far felt any urgency to make those changes retroactive, I don’t think they’re ever going to. The courts have made it pretty clear that they’re not going to be the avenue through which those changes are going to be made. It’s a lost cause.

    All we can do now is try to understand.

  71. patrick ford says:

    Who needs facts when it’s all about swagger.

  72. R. Maheras says:

    Pat — As I said before, you seem to routinely ignore any facts that do not line up with your preconceptions, so criticizing someone for ignoring facts seems quite silly, to say the least.

    I am seeking the truth, regardless of what direction the facts lead. Putting up false walls impedes the process.

  73. George Bush (not that one) says:

    Kirby was paid 60$ a page in 1968 ? Can I have a source please? It was my understanding that 1) it was less than that, certainly in the beginning 2) DC paid more than Marvel.

  74. George Bush (not that one) says:

    Evanier: Kirby’s page rate just before he left Marvel was the same as Romita’s. Actually, in a way, it was lower because Romita had a staff job that paid him a salary per week so he was paid for the time he spent in story meetings with Stan or doing redraws on his work, whereas Kirby was not.

    I don’t have the precise numbers handy but in 1963, Kirby and Ditko were getting around $25 a page, too. Ditko always worked for Charlton for a little less money than he got elsewhere. They always paid less but they also never asked him for revisions

  75. Ben Barnett says:

    RSM: “All we can do now is try to understand.”

    RM: “I am seeking the truth.”

    sniff . . .

  76. Tim Hodler says:

    Hey Robert (and if you’re not named Robert, I don’t really recommend reading this) —

    I’m going to respond as non-confrontationally as I can, and hope that you don’t take any of this too personally. I don’t want to get into a lengthy or heated argument with you, because I don’t think it’s a productive use of my time or yours.

    Believe it or not, I sympathize with your apparent desire to de-romanticize these historical issues and separate fact from myth. That said, I disagree with many of your conclusions, and think that your argumentative tactics are often unnecessarily aggressive and hostile, and that it might be worth spending some time examining your goals, as well as your strategy for achieving them.

    Your recent line of argument contradicts itself in multiple ways that you might not be considering.

    1. By your own words, you seem to broadly agree with Jeet and others that Jack Kirby was exploited to one degree or another, and that his heirs deserve compensation on some level (while disagreeing on some specifics and the magnitude of the exploitation, and though you see no hope of the situation being rectified).

    2. You claim that when Jeet and others argue that Marvel and/or DC should or could make things right, their desired outcome has no chance of ever being enacted.

    3. In particular, you believe that it is useless for them to express opinions on these issues on online comics discussion threads.

    4. You reconcile this by attacking Jeet with extreme rhetoric as a moral imbecile, gratifying himself to no purpose. And you do it on online comics discussion threads. Repeatedly, and with displays of rage that seem wildly out of proportion with the offense you are supposedly correcting.

    For the sake of argument, let’s grant that all of your suppositions are correct, and that Kirby defenders (or however you want to characterize them) are wasting their time discussing what was done to Kirby, and what could be done to improve the situation. Do you really think your comments are going to stop people from expressing opinions you don’t agree with on the internet? To quote an angry man I once read: “Do they have any pragmatic value towards that end at all? Or are they just claptrap that’s being used to pat oneself on the back over how noble one is?”

    I know that there is a history between you and Jeet (and you and me, and you and Gary, etc.), and I know that it is easy to fly off the handle during internet discussions, but if, as it seems from your most recent remarks, your beef with Jeet here really comes down to nothing more than the question or whether or not it’s worthwhile discussing and expressing opinions about the ethics of various decisions in comics history, then … shouldn’t you have better things to do?

  77. R. Maheras says:

    I’ve been following the comics business side of things since 1970 or so, and I’ve run across a number of anecdotes that make me pretty confident is my numbers.

    Frankly, I’m tired of doing all of the heavy lifting for others when it comes to doing such research, when I know there are people out there who have data they can’t, or won’t, share.

    You prove I’m wrong. Do your own research and prove I’m wrong. Tell me what the “real” page rates were. Tell me what Goodman’s “real” profit margins were.

    I welcome such an open debate about Silver Age pay rates and the economics of the business.

    I think a wait of more than 50 years for such a discussion is long enough, don’t you?

  78. patrick ford says:

    The $25 per page figure quoted by Evanier was almost certainly for pencils and inks. Kirby was not inking his pages at that time so it’s likely he was being paid around $15 per page.
    In 1965 Roy Thomas made these remarks about page rates at DC.
    https://fbcdn-sphotos-c-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn2/t1/1461025_391473754319303_1987985609_n.jpg
    What I find interesting about the “minimum rates” he mentions is they are almost in line with Marvel’s top rates as quoted to John Romita by Stan Lee in 1965. And notice the writing page rate is a lot closer to the page rate for “finished art” (pencils and inks) than most people would probably assume.
    Also interesting to see Thomas point out the disparity in the amount of time it takes an artist to draw a page as opposed to the amount of time it takes to write a full script. He mentions the writer has task which can be accomplished in a far shorter period of time. And he wonders why artists he “knows for a fact can write” don’t write their own material.
    This might explain why Wood, Kirby, and Ditko were so unhappy with Stan Lee collecting the full writers page rate at Marvel. By their accounts Kirby, Wood, and Ditko were writing or at least co-writing their stories while Lee collected the whole writers page rate and credit. Not only that but Lee’s Method of Operation allowed Lee to collect the whole writers page rate for far more pages than he probably would have been able to produce if he had been writing full scripts. And in many instances where Kirby was paid a greatly reduced rate for what were described as “layouts” Lee took either the full writers page rate and credit, or in some cases credit and payment for plotting on stories where his brother or another writer supplied the dialogue.

  79. George Bush (not that one) says:

    Funny that you pull numbers out of your ass and then act all arrogant. I trust Evanier more than you.

  80. James says:

    I predict that Pat’s point about Lee taking pay for work done by others for many years will be ignored by those who, having just climbed all over Jeet, thrusting their crotches in his face like aroused jocks in a football pile-up, now wish to claim victory and preen before the next Kirby article offers them another opportunity to bully and mainly, to revenge themselves on their enemies, even if it means defending untenable positions they themselves do not believe.

  81. Scott Grammel says:

    With Jack and Roz Kirby both gone, there is surely no longer any good reason for the Kirby family to embargo the financial details so long and vigorously fought about on this and other forums. Supposedly Evanier knows all this stuff, and is sworn to secrecy, right? At this point, the question becomes: for whom and for what good purpose?

    I try not to be too confident in my ability to see beyond the grave, but I always feel pretty safe assuming that the dead don’t give a hoot about their privacy.

  82. R. Maheras says:

    No, George. I didn’t pull them out of ass, and I don’t care about popularity contests. Do your own research and prove I’m wrong.

  83. Dan Nadel says:

    A quick note: I just deleted a comment by Robert Stanley Martin that was primarily a personal attack. Life is too short. Robert (and everyone else on this thread), should you wish to comment again, please stick to the topic at hand. Good times.

  84. Then I ask you to delete the comment from Tim I was responding to. Fair’s fair. Taking him at his word, it wasn’t meant for anyone but me anyway.

  85. Tim Hodler says:

    My comment was clearly not a personal attack upon you, Robert. You are welcome to respond to it in a civil manner. Also, I didn’t recommend that others not read the comment because it was meant to be private, but because I thought most people would find the dispute boring. (If it had been intended to be private, I would of course responded via e-mail.) Sorry to anyone who misunderstood that.

  86. George Bush (not that one) says:

    If you can’t prove your source for Kirby’s page rate, you are pulling numbers out of your ass. And a lame appeal to authority is ridiculous when you have shown yourself to be a liar/fraud. Have a nice day!

  87. R. Maheras says:

    George — Patrick ford actually gave you a good starting point when he posted the link to the Ken Myer Jr.’s PDF of “Fantastic Fanzine” #11, published in 1970.

    In that issue, in Gary Groth’s interview of Jim Steranko, Groth asked about page rates. and Steranko, who was doing freelance work for Marvel at the time, was quite candid (as he was during the entire interview). After thinking out loud a bit, he finally concluded, “fifteen dollars to a hundred dollars a page.

    That one statement alone, unclouded by any lengthy passages of time, should make it clear that my estimates aren’t off base for 1968.

    But it’s just a start.

  88. R. Maheras says:

    George — You’re a real class act, aren’t you? Show me one instance where I lied.

    The fact is, you can’t. You’re just throwing accusations around. Where’s your research? Where’s your theory? I’ve never seen any published historical comics research you have done. On the other hand, I’ve had a number of comics-related research articles and indexes published over the years. And when it comes to the topic of comic book economics, it’s an area I’ve been following for more than 45 years.

    I even threw you a research bone, on the off chance you were really serious about truly understanding the economics of Silver Age Marvel. I pointed out above Steranko’s 1970 interview that Patrick Ford linked to, which corroborates my theory.

  89. george says:

    What a bunch of anger, bitterness, name-calling and finger-pointing this thread is. Grow up, guys.

    This is the sort of childish fanboy bickering that makes sane people avoid comic-book fandom. (I don’t see any female names here, unless the women are using pseudonyms to avoid sexist attacks. As Heidi MacDonald and others have said, the Journal message boards have very few female posters. Gee, I wonder why?)

  90. george says:

    “Several layers of nonsense here. For one thing, authors like J.K. Rowling and Stephen King are much wealthier than any individual publisher.”

    Rowling and King didn’t spend their careers in cheap periodicals, as Kirby, Ditko and most comic book artists of their generation did. You’re the one who’s full of nonsense, “Jeet.” When you spend every waking hour brooding over the “injustice” of Jack Kirby not becoming a millionaire, you lose all perspective. That goes for you, too, “D.D.”

    If Kirby wanted to own his creations and not deal with “interference” from editors and publishers, he could have gone to work for an underground publisher. They were up and running by 1966.

  91. Scott Grammel says:

    A very quick Bing search gave me a Dan Adkins quote about Wood’s Marvel pay when he went there in 1964. Adkins says that Marvel’s then starting pay was $20 per page for penciling, $15 for inking, and that Wood, being Wood, got their top pay of $45 for both (after having received Mad’s top rate of $200 a page). Whether that makes Marvel’s top page rate for penciling $25 or $30 or something else, it doesn’t specify.

  92. R. Maheras says:

    Marvel rates weren’t static during the 1960s — particularly the pencils. They apparently went up significantly between 1962 and 1970. That makes sense, particularly with the company’s dramatic rise in circulation during the same time period.

    Rates varied with the creator, and the dollar ratio between penciler and inker was sometimes three-to-one.

  93. R. Fiore says:

    In capitalism the deal the boss offers is essentially this: “I know how to make money from this thing you do, and if you’ll do it for me I’ll give you some of it. It won’t be most of it, I’ll be keeping most of it, but you’ll get more than you’d make on your own.” In pure laissez faire capitalism red in tooth and claw, labor gets paid based on its market value and the bosses keep everything else. That is, if the bosses can make a million dollars a week from hod lifting and you can get people to swing a shovel for a dollar a day then a dollar a day is what hod lifting pays, no matter how much it makes. Capital almost always has more leverage than labor in this arrangement. What Martin Goodman brought to the table was the ability to get magazines on the newsstands. This gave him leverage to demand that anybody who drew a comic book for him surrender all rights. Such a surrender was furthermore standard practice in the business he was in. As it happened, he was once called upon to justify his practices, when Carl Burgos sued him over the Human Torch and Prince Namor. What his lawyers said was that since Goodman had risked all the capital in bringing the characters to the public then he was entitled to own them. I would figure that if you’d asked Goodman he would have said that he bought them and they were his. Anyway, if he were to ask his employee Stan Lee, Stan Lee would have said that he created all the characters. If you ask the current owners, they would tell you that they bought the property from what their due diligence told them was the rightful owners, that they acted in good faith and that whatever their predecessors had done, they paid full value for it.

    I think this discussion has gotten onto a tangential issue of how much Kirby got paid on a month-to-month basis. Was that ever really the issue? I thought the main injustice was that he was forced to surrender ownership of characters he created in return for a page rate. While this was unjust it was a case of “stolen fair and square” according to the practices of the industry, upheld numerous times in court. It seems to me that during his prime years he was getting paid top rate, for what that was worth, wasn’t he? The hell of it was, in the market he largely helped to create the creators gained much more leverage and got a better deal from the companies, including a piece of the profits, but he was too late to take advantage of it. But even under the improved conditions the big companies insist on owning all the characters, at least in their main lines. That the top earners continue to do much of their work for company-owned characters when they could be working on characters they create and own indicates that the capitalist deal pays out for them.

    I would say that the proposition “Jack Kirby created all those characters” is far closer to the truth than “Stan Lee created all those characters,” but neither proposition is the whole truth. The proposition that Kirby was merely fleshing out specifications given to him by Stan Lee as an employer is patently absurd. Since Goodman’s son continued to publish magazines for decades after his father sold the business, I think it can be said that the family if not Martin Goodman himself would have been better off it they’d held on longer. The bankruptcy Marvel went through in the 1990s was more due to the financial shenanigans of the owners than the value of the company. There was a lot of failing upwards in this story.

  94. R. Fiore says:

    As a postscript, an instructive story about the nature of capitalism: The American Revolution was paid for in large part by the sale of Land Warrants, a form of war bond. Patriotic Americans were betting their gold that the revolution would succeed, and if it did they would be repaid in land that Congress would deed to them. Because there was no knowing how long the war might last there was no due date for the Warrants; it would take an act of Congress to deed the land to the Warrant holders. The Revolutionary War ends, years and years go by, and Congress doesn’t act on the Warrants, which as a result appear to be worthless. Speculators start buying them up for a pittance. Once these Warrants were bought, they were in the hands of holders with enough money to bribe members of Congress to get the Warrants honored, and that’s what they did, making a killing in the process. It’s a kind of Schrodinger’s Cat proposition as to whether the Warrants were actually worth anything until they belonged to somebody who could make them worth something.

  95. R. Maheras says:

    I definitely agree that Kirby was most likely the idea catalyst than Lee. Kirby had a before Lee and after Lee track record. For the most part, Lee’s historic creative trail begins and ends with his association with the likes of Kirby and Ditko.

    What bugs me most about the vast majority of comic book economics discussions is that the lines are drawn politically — not based on the realities of the marketplace.

    Before the advent of the Direct Market, publishing comics was a very high-risk, low return endeavor that required a huge amount of start-up capital before one penny of profit was realized. With the three-month lag between the on-sale date and when the first sales data (and revenue started coming in from the distributor, a publisher in the late 1960s had to up-front about $75,000 on one new title before the first dollar was realized. And since the profit per title was about a grand, it’s easy to see that if one guessed wrong too many times on new titles, it could quickly bring down a company.

    Wally Wood mentioned that grim reality in the Bhob Stewart article Fantagraphics just posted. Magazine printing costs are even higher than comics, and I think the $120,000 start up costs Woody mentions incorporates the three-month lag I mentioned ($40,000 + $40,000 + $40,000 — month 1, 2, and 3 — equals $120,000).

    Given the market realities, if th Goodman was taking all of the risk, why shouldn’t he own the material?

    That said, when the industry went to Direct Market distribution, and almost all of the risk shifted to the retailer, the old business model could have easily been phased out, and a new model — one incorporating creator ownership — could have been introduced.

  96. Nate says:

    “What bugs me most about the vast majority of comic book economics discussions is that the lines are drawn politically — not based on the realities of the marketplace.”
    Recourse to the “realities of the marketplace” is a political position. That’s fine, and one can argue that market capitalism is the best of all available alternatives, and that it trends toward making life better across the board. But there’s also the position, which Jeet, Fiore, and others have taken, that there’s a tendency for wealth to accumulate, which in turn creates a less than level playing field, its pitch redounding to the benefit of wealth. Regardless, the “realities of the marketplace” are human-created and maintained, and they can and do change over time.
    So you’re right, this really is an argument about economic and social justice, which is a political argument. The question is whether one is OK with what happened to Kirby because that’s the way things go in a capitalist economy, or if one thinks that something is out of whack and it needs to be addressed directly, either through direct legal action (lawsuits), or legislation (lobbying).

  97. Chuck Gower says:

    I guess you forgot about sales from advertising. I would imagine they paid for a great deal of those costs.

  98. Chuck Gower says:

    A few comments on this argument….

    To R. Maheras: when trying to figure out the profit made from a comic book by the publisher in 1968, you might want to take into account something as important as the paid advertising they sold for those books. I would imagine, that for Goodman, it added up and paid for many of the costs you mention, making his profitability quite a bit more than you figure.

    Independent publishers didn’t always have the means to sell the type of advertising that large publications had, obviously, because they weren’t as established, or equipped with the means to put it together.
    That put them at a tremendous disadvantage.

    Of course, they also had lower overhead, so they could cut corners, but then they ran into:
    The walls put up to distribute the comic and the battle for rack space, both of which was a political game played by the established publishers. If they wanted to shut you out, or just squeeze you enough to make it not worth your time to publish, they could and did.

    Oh, and Kirby did not have health care benefits at any point while working for Marvel Comics (it’s a fact that’s been mentioned by everyone from Jim Shooter to Mark Evanier) and when he left Marvel Comics in 1970, he was making $35,000, still as a freelancer (still with no contract) Source: (Braun, Saul (May 2, 1971). “Shazam! Here Comes Captain Relevant”. The New York Times Magazine.

  99. R. Maheras says:

    As I pointed out somewhere above, in 1961, when Lee and Kirby created the Fantastic Four, modern day comic books had been around almost three decade, and both Lee and Kirby had been in the business 20 years.

    None of Kirby’s previous characters were still being published in 1961, so in his paradigm, characters were merely fads — something to be created, milked until market demand shifted, and then thrown away. He knew that there was occasionally a Superman or Batman, but for every one of those there were thousands of failures. The comics industry was also littered with scores of companies that came and went.

    So unlike Siegel and in 1938, Kirby in 1961 was no wide-eyed neophyte who was being taken advantage of by an unscrupulous publisher. He was a smart, experienced and seasoned industry veteran who was trying to keep a foundering company going so he could have a steady revenue stream with which to support his family.

    It was not “social injustice” with an “unfair playing field.” Goodman offered what was, to Kirby, an opportunity to make a living. Goodman had probably long since given up the idea of finding the next superman — if he ever had such aspirations in the first place. He most likely was just trying to keep afloat in what was a risky business. No one knew the Lee/Kirby/Ditko/et al were going to create something unprecedented. And keep in mind it was’t just any one character — it was the mystique of the entire company. Neither Kirby, Lee or Ditko could have done on their own what they did as a team.

  100. Nate says:

    It was not “social injustice” with an “unfair playing field.”
    I think this is true, so long as you equate market capitalism with social justice. A lot of people do, but a lot of people don’t. As for level playing fields, Goodman it might have been level, but Goodman (because he had money) could play it more aggressively. His risk was simply not the same as Kirby’s. Again, you can argue that this is fair given that in a market system you’ll have levels of winners and levels of losers, but you can also argue that having money gives a player unfair advantage, especially where the bargaining process is concerned. And I think this is what a lot of us folks concerned about creators’ rights are focussed on.

  101. R. Fiore says:

    The problem with this reasoning is that the business practices we’re discussing began when comic books were selling in the millions. Allowing Martin Goodman was justified in robbing Jack Kirby, which I doubt, why was he justified in robbing Carl Burgos? Strangely, European publishers seemed to be able to make a profit from Tintin and Asterix without robbing their creators of their creations. That being said, there’s not a lot of point in worrying these things to death. When you see an injustice being done your impulse is to see it stopped. You have this impulse even when it’s an injustice in the past that can’t be amended. When I say “stolen fair and square,” what I’m saying is that while the system was unjust, nothing was done that violated the rules of the game as it was being played in those days. It was a rotten system that’s been reformed, and now comics creators have alternatives and can make something more like a free and informed choice.

    And who actually gives a shit about Martin Goodman anyway? He was no Henry Luce or Hugh Hefner. He was a guy who figured out how to make money on the second tier of the publishing business, which is to say a second-rater by profession. The great service he did for comics was to keep his comics business going when it was losing money. The reason he did it was because as a magazine man he understood that the rack space he’d gained for his comic books was an asset, and it shouldn’t be abandoned lightly.

    A more interesting question is whether the system was in some ways conducive to creativity. I wrote before about the creative socialism of the big comics companies. The company is the all-powerful state which owns everything. The state has this pool of concepts with a pre-sold audience, and invites its prospective people to reshape these assets in any way that enhances their value, and is given a share in the profits of his efforts. Ownership of anything the people create becomes property of the state, however, and is now part of the pool of concepts for the people to use. A creator of a character who might insist a character be true to its original concept would upset this system. As a general rule I think it’s more conducive to creativity to have artists create their own characters than to retread old ones, but there is an argument here.

    I think the most likely scenario for the creation of the Marvel Universe was Jack Kirby pitching characters to Stan Lee. You can imagine how Stan Lee might have influenced the development of the characters through the dynamics of the pitch meeting: The pitcher proposes ideas to the catcher, the catcher expresses interest in this or that idea, the pitcher begins to shape his idea around what the catcher is biting at. Stan Lee was someone who knew his business was in trouble and that taking risks was called for. He had a feeling for the zeitgeist, understood the rising tide of skepticism about traditional mass art heroism and the rising appeal of the antihero.

  102. R. Maheras says:

    Chuck — Regarding the ad revenue, I did briefly discuss it. When I did my calculations during the 1970s, I seem to remember ad revenue offsetting the non-creative costs like rent, utilities, photo stats, copyright filing fees, non-creative stat salaries, etc. — so in effect, the were a wash and cancelled each other out.

    Keep in mind that Goodman’s ad rates were based on the total circulation of all of his titles in a given month.

    To calculate the per issue ad revenue, the formula would be: (Full-page ad rate per month) times (number of ads purchased by advertisers) divided by (total issues published per month). For example, let’s say the ad rate was $1,000 in 1968. And let’s say Goodman sold six ads in January, which would run in every issue published that month. Finally, let’s say Goodman published 20 titles.

    That equates to $1,000 times 6, or $6,000. Divide that by 20 titles, and the ad revenue per title in a given month is about $300.

    Find the actual ad rates in a given year, and calculating the actual numbers is academic.

    Why people think the playing field should be “level” for creators is a weak argument. Kirby did not have to be a mainstream comic book artist. He could have channeled his artist talents in comics some other way. But he wanted to make money at it, and unless one had a small fortune and distribution savvy, it wasn’t something that was feasible. It was a very risky business that chewed up and spit out legions of publishers over the years. Goodman paid Kirby decent money and gave him a stage that Kirby simply could not have gotten any other way.

    And that $35,000 pay figure cited in 1970 equates to $211,000 in today’s dollars. Figure out how many pages and covers he penciled his last year at Marvel, and you can get a pretty good idea what his page rate was.

  103. Chuck Gower says:

    You’re whole arguement is based on lowball guesses as to what Goodman made while comparing what Kirby made in today’s dollars. It’s all speculation.

    And regardless of what you guess, saying Kirby’s salary in today’s dollars was $211,000 a year, still makes him underpaid in today’s market. If you took the top page rate earner at Marvel right now and gave him 60 pages a month to do + 3 covers + co-writing credit for all three books, he’d be doing quite a bit better than that and have full benefits as well.
    And if he was basically creating a new universe that brought your company from the brink of bankruptcy to being the #1 comic publisher it would be worth even more.
    If you brought in Frank Miller and gave him that set up, he’d probably demand no less than $2 million a year.

    But we’ll never see that happen again, because the business model you claim to be a success is actually such a drastic failure for comics, it’s left a hollow shell of a hobby for Marvel’s ‘House of Ideas’. No one creates anything anymore. It’s all rehashed same old same old.
    Why?
    Because of what happened to Kirby.
    They know better than to give great new ideas to a thief.
    So what we get is tired, boring retreads of ideas repeated ad nauseum, dressed up in variant covers and story promises, and cluttered store racks…

    Yeah, what a great model for success.

    One of the greatest creators in the history of American Comics is virtually unknown outside of the hobby, while the spokesman for the greatest thief in the history of American Comics continues to shake hands and sign autographs and take credit for the success, while the thief continues to dumb down and retard the art form Kirby built.

    You can call it a success all you want.
    It’s sad and it’s pathetic.

  104. R. Maheras says:

    Chuck — These are not lowball guesses. These estimates are in line with my calculations for my own planned company circa 1975, and are confirmed by Jim Steranko in the Groth’s interview of him in 1970.

    You assume they are “lowball,” but unless you have other data to prove otherwise, your criticism is unfounded.

    As for the whole benefits issue, I think that’s a red herring. What was the norm for freelancers in during the 1960s? What was the norm for the average person in any line of work during the 1960s?

    To put Kirby’s pay from 1970 in perspective, that same year my parents bought a four-bedroom house in Chicago, with a full attic, basement and detached garage, for $17,500. It was the only house I ever lived in while growing up, since both before and after I only lived in apartments. They sold that house six years later for the same price. The address was 950 North Laramie, in case you’d like to do a title search for proof.

    So your attempt to make Kirby’s $35,000 salary in 1970 seem like less than it really was during that era seems a bit disingenuous, in my opinion.

    Compared to the upbringing I was accustomed to, and that of those around me, Jack Kirby was a rich man in 1970. Why do you think I wanted to make a career in comics in the first place? What I found out later soured me on the business, i.e., that folks like Kirby were the exception, not the norm.

    Again, the economics of the comics business is something I’ve been interested in for a long time, and I’ll gladly adjust my figures if new data emerges.

  105. Chuck Gower says:

    “Chuck — These are not lowball guesses. These estimates are in line with my calculations for my own planned company circa 1975, and are confirmed by Jim Steranko in the Groth’s interview of him in 1970.
    You assume they are “lowball,” but unless you have other data to prove otherwise, your criticism is unfounded.”

    I’m assuming they’re lowball because you’ve offered no proof.
    I’m assuming they’re low ball because you seem to be trying to inflate Kirby’s income and make Goodman’s seem miniscule.
    And I’m assuming you’re numbers are lowball because even your ‘let’s say..” numbers are…. lowball.

    You said: “let’s say the ad rate was $1,000 in 1968″
    For what kind of ad? Full page? Half Page? Quarter page? Per Square Inch? It makes a big difference…

    You said: “And let’s say Goodman sold six ads in January, which would run in every issue published that month.” – Very lowball. I pick up a random issue on hand – The Amazing Spider-man #65 – September 1968 –
    1) Full Page INSIDE FRONT COVER – I would imagine that’s a premium,,,
    2) 4 Full Page Interior Ads….
    3) Full Page INSIDE BACK COVER –
    4) Full Page Back Cover – That’s got to be a premium…
    5) FOUR Half Page Ads…
    6) 2 full pages of a whole bunch of small ads…
    That’s 11 FULL PAGES of ads…

    So using your extremely limited formula, that would be $11,000
    IF all ads cost the same…
    Including the inside front cover full page ads, and full page back cover ads…
    That would make our EXTREMELY shaky numbers add up to almost double what you originally said, to about $550 per issue.

    Still not happy with this, I did some limited search and I found this on eBay: A 1969 Advertising rate card for the Seattle Baseball Team’s Yearly Program. (http://www.ebay.com/itm/original-and-RARE-1969-SEATTLE-PILOTS-Souvenir-Program-season-ad-rates-card-/191084157227?pt=Vintage_Sports_Memorabilia&hash=item2c7d80d92b)

    NOT a newsstand publication available across the United States, but a small team Baseball program sold only at the stadium where the team plays, in the northwestern most corner of the United States.

    A full page ad is $2800…

    If I were to use this somewhat limited viewing audience, small team, souvenir program’s rates, I would get (cutting in half the rate for the inside front and back covers, because they’re not in color):

    1) Full Page INSIDE FRONT COVER – $1750
    2) 4 Full Page Interior Ads…. $2800 X 4 = $22,400
    3) Full Page INSIDE BACK COVER – $1750
    4) Full Page Back Cover – I color – $4000
    5) FOUR Half Page Ads… $1500 X 4 = $6000
    6) 2 full pages of a whole bunch of small ads… $2800 X 2 = $5600

    for a Total of: $41,500 div. by 20 = $2075 per issue.

    Heck, I’ll even take into account that many of the comic ads are regular buyers, so they get a HUGE discount (even though I’m NOT taking into account many of the interior ads are in color, something they’re NOT in the Baseball Souvenir Program), so we’ll cut it all in half and say:

    $1037 per issue.

    So, yeah. I think you’re numbers are way lowball.

    And I showed MY numbers.

  106. Chuck Gower says:

    And the second part of your argument saying “So your attempt to make Kirby’s $35,000 salary in 1970 seem like less than it really was during that era seems a bit disingenuous, in my opinion.”

    Kirby worked six – seven days a week to produce 60 pages and three covers a month, DOWN from what he at one time had to do at Marvel to make that kind of money – upwards of 100 pages a month.
    He wasn’t a machine. He wasn’t a hack.
    His creative output was VITAL to the only real sustained successful run that Marvel Comics had ever had up to that point.

    Less than 10 years later Stan Lee would be getting a million dollars a year from the company for his contributions to the creation of those characters and Jack would be stonewalled from even getting his original art back.

    Marvel treated him like SHIT.
    They didn’t even treat him ‘like anyone else’.
    They treated him like SHIT.
    For what he DID for them, for what he did for comics… I hope Goodman burns in hell, and I hope Stan Lee follows him there.

    The business model you claim to be a success ISN’T. Marvel Comics as a comics publisher isn’t a ‘House of Ideas’ anymore. That ended when Kirby left.

  107. R. Maheras says:

    While I disagree with some of your assumptions, I welcome the dialogue. In just a brief amount of time, you’ve put more thought into the economics of comic books during the Silver Age than anyone else I can recall doing in the past 40 years besides me. And since the economics between creators and management has been such a hot button issue during that same period, it’s a sad indictment of those who fancy themselves to be experts about such things, don’t you think?

    I dispute your numbers for a number or reasons. First, Wally Wood’s start-up costs statement, and Steranko’s discussions in 1970 about comic book economics back up my numbers, not yours. If ad revenue was as lucrative as you believe, the profit margin would not have been $1,000 per issue, as Steranko states.

    Keep in mind that while you do make estimates about ad revenue, you ignore the additional monthly costs Goodman incurred as a publisher: Rent, phone, electricity, production/office supplies, postage, non-creative staff salaries, etc. – cost I believe were largely offset by ad revenue.

    I would have researched the actual number of ads in the titles in 1968, along with the Statements of Ownership, but all of my comics and files from that period are in storage because of a recent move. That’s my problem, however, not yours.

    The 1969 Seattle Pilots program seasonal ad rate is not a good comparison for Goodman’s ads, as the Pilots were largely targeting working adults, not non-working adolescents, as Goodman’s ads did. In addition, I’ll wager the preseason estimated attendance for the new Pilots team was probably about one million or more for their 81 home games – which was about the 1968 attendance average for baseball teams in general. That they drew only 677,944 fans in 1969, their first season, and folded, is irrelevant, as the ads were paid for long before their ill-fated season started.

    As far as how Marvel, the corporate entity, eventually treated Kirby, that’s beyond the scope of my discussion about Marvel under Goodman. Goodman sold the company in 1968, and while he stayed on as publisher for a few more years, he no longer calling the shots and was long gone by the time Lee was getting his $1 million per year. It’s a separate argument, and one I tend to agree was largely unfair to Kirby.
    Regarding Kirby’s reported $35,000 pay in 1970, I just asked my mom to pull out my dad’s tax returns from back then, and in 1970 he was making a tad more than $9,000 a year as a union truck driver in Chicago – a grueling job where he had to load his truck every morning, and unload it while he made his deliveries in all kinds of weather, and in all kinds of dangerous neighborhoods.
    All of my earliest jobs also involved heavy doses of manual labor. I worked in a print shop, a plumbing supply company (where much of the stock was located outside, or in warehouses that were unheated in the winter, and were like ovens during the summer), a book distribution warehouse, and a magazine distribution warehouse. So the thought of working at a drawing board at home every day seemed pretty damn idyllic to me – especially considering how much money guys like Kirby were making.
    Is it any wonder that it pisses me off when people tell me how poor and mistreated Kirby was by Goodman?

  108. Chuck Gower says:

    “I dispute your numbers for a number or reasons. First, Wally Wood’s start-up costs statement, and Steranko’s discussions in 1970 about comic book economics back up my numbers, not yours. If ad revenue was as lucrative as you believe, the profit margin would not have been $1,000 per issue, as Steranko states.”

    Not trying to be offensive, but, you haven’t proven that discussion even exists. You may be misremembering it, so I’ve only given it a ‘since we’re already discussing it’ view in the first place.

    Now, since we’re already discussing it..

    For a new publisher, starting up a single book, the costs would’ve been higher. Much higher.

    They wouldn’t have had access to national advertising (or even have been published nationally), so individual printing plates for every page would’ve had to be created for this new book… whereas a back page ad on 20 Marvel Comics would’ve had less plates made that could’ve been used for multiple books. Considerably more expensive.
    Did Wood even publish ads in Witzend initially? I know later there were some local convention ads and such, but….

    Marvel was printing 20 books a month, probably averaging 200,000 copies per issue (4 million pages – comichron.com) compared to some fly by night start up publisher’s one issue at 20,000 copies who was going to get muscled off the sales racks anyway…. the price per page to print was considerably higher for the new guy. Considerably higher.

    Which explains some of Steranko numbers, if that’s what he said.

    “Keep in mind that while you do make estimates about ad revenue, you ignore the additional monthly costs Goodman incurred as a publisher: Rent, phone, electricity, production/office supplies, postage, non-creative staff salaries, etc. – cost I believe were largely offset by ad revenue.”

    Not ignoring it at all. Just not as large as you believe in 1968 dollars AND strung across an entire magazine, comic, and book publishing operation. What was minimum wage for office help in 1968 – $1.05 an hour?
    They bought their supplies bulk (another savings over a new start up publisher) and the cost was absorbed over an entire publishing empire. Considerably less than you think.

    It’s the way businesses do business, and certainly the way GOODMAN did business. If you read the above book, you’ll see he was very creative with the way he played with finances.

    “The 1969 Seattle Pilots program seasonal ad rate is not a good comparison for Goodman’s ads, as the Pilots were largely targeting working adults, not non-working adolescents, as Goodman’s ads did. In addition, I’ll wager the preseason estimated attendance for the new Pilots team was probably about one million or more for their 81 home games – which was about the 1968 attendance average for baseball teams in general. That they drew only 677,944 fans in 1969, their first season, and folded, is irrelevant, as the ads were paid for long before their ill-fated season started.”

    Once again, it works the opposite way that you say….
    A brand new team will charge LESS for advertising, in order to attract business that isn’t used to spending that money on a untested medium. Expansion teams in ANY sport, much less a smaller market (at the time) like Seattle in a part of the country that had no previous baseball team, was NOT getting a premium for their ads.
    And 1 million fans over 7-8 months, compared to 4 million fans in one month across the entire United States… your argument doesn’t hold up…
    The cost of an ad in a national publication out of New York City through an ad agency would’ve been more expensive than a local baseball teams yearbook sold only at the home stadium.

    “Is it any wonder that it pisses me off when people tell me how poor and mistreated Kirby was by Goodman?”

    I’ve never claimed Kirby was ‘poor’, he worked hard for a living and made a good wage.
    He was unfairly… no, he was CHEATED by Marvel. I think we both agree on that.

    But comparing someone who has created characters and concepts now worth billions of dollars (of which he saw none of) to any kind of manual labor hourly wage job is strange. It’s not the same kind of job.

    There was a time in America where they did this same sort of thing to musicians, but the law clamped down on it. Were those musicians silly in thinking they should get paid for their talent, when it was the record producers, music publisher’s, and record pressers who had the money to make it all happen?

    Should they have just shut up and taken what they were given?

  109. R. Maheras says:

    An aside: I believe Goodman sold Magazine Management Company (which included Marvel) when he did because he was certain the industry-wide comic book circulation jump, driven by the Batman TV show, had peaked. I don’t think he realized what he had in his relatively new stable of characters, and he probably figured the superhero boom had peaked — much they way it did following World War II.

    It’s as if Goodman was some art expert who had purchased a Jackson Pollock painting back in the late 1940s for $500, and then sold it for $5,000 in the late 1950s when you thought interest in his work had peaked — never imagining in your wildest dream that that same painting would one day be worth $50 million.

  110. R. Maheras says:

    Chuck — If you know anything about the publishing business, you’d know they always inflate circulation — if they can get away with it — so your assumption that the Pilots would low-ball their attendance expectations to advertisers is a huge stretch. It would undercut your new team PR hype across the board to do so, and I can’t imagine any owner OKing such a strategy.

    When I visited the Audit Bureau of Circulations in Schaumburg, Illinois, to do research on another project, I so badly wanted to look at the 1960s data to see if Marvel was an ABC audited member then, and, if so, did the ABC circulations data match Statements of Ownership. But regardless, Goodman was still required to declare to the Post Office, under possible penalty, what his actual circulation was. So unlike, say, the Pilots, he couldn’t really fudge his figures all that much if he was tempted to. Still, someday I want to go back to ABC and check the 1960s data.

    So I think the Pilots one million circulation figure is still a solid one. Face it, only drawing 667,000 fans drove them out of business. There’s no way they were “expecting” before the season started. Their business plan must have reflected a much higher attendance figure.

    As far as a reach of four million a month versus a one million reach spread out over 6-7 months, the time period does not matter. Reach is reach. Either way your paying for a certain alleged audience reach.

    And again, ads targeting working adults are going to cost much more than ads targeting 12-year-olds. I mean, can you really compare an ad for Charles Atlas “Dynamic Tension” booklets, run out of a P.O. Box somewhere, to an ad for Budweiser or Ford? Not only no, but hell no.

    The Jim Steranko interview I mention was conducted by Gary Groth, and published in “Fantastic Fanzine” #11, published in 1970. Somewhere above, Patrick Ford provided the link to a PDF of the ‘zine online. However, I happen to have a copy, as I collect fanzines and small press publications from the 1960s through the 1980s. The Wood statement is part of the late Bhob Stewart’s article about Wally Wood, which you can currently link to on “The Comics Journal” home page.

    Again, my analysis is about Goodman’s reign. Why? Because I think Goodman has historically been raked over the coals a bit unfairly. Face it… Goodman sold the goose that laid the golden eggs and didn’t even know it.

  111. R. Maheras says:

    Based on those 1987 numbers for a full-page ad, Marvel was charging $2,907 per million circulation for 6.5 million readers.

    Marvel’s circulation in 1968 was about 4 million per month, so if we make that the baseline, the 1987 cost for 4 million is $$11,628.

    Plug that into the inflation calculator for 1968 and that number equates to $3,562 a full-page ad for four million. That is closer to your estimate than mine.

    But I have to caution that the forced, and more importantly, regular price increases inherent to corporate ownership of the comics is four times the rate of inflation from 1968 to the present. In short, based on inflation, a comic book today should not cost $3 or $4 a pop. It should be about 80 cents.

    So, while I could be wrong, my guess is that the ad rates, like cover prices, were hyper-inflated by corporate ownership since 1968 as well. I can’t yet prove that though. Like you, I’d love to see an ad rate card from Goodman for 1968 — to settle the issue.

  112. D.D. says:

    If he’d ended up as a middle-class retiree in Florida, coming out to comic book conventions to swap stories with Jack Kirby, we might think of Martin Goodman as a quirky, square, accidental hero. A guy who built a family business that enabled Captain America to exist, that enabled the early shop work of Bill Everett and Carl Burgos to get an airing through a major newsstand publisher, and who had the good sense to allow Stan Lee to do what he did in the Sixties.

    Probably not, in many of our cases. Class analysis doesn’t falter here. Goodman was a capitalist who exploited his workers, and that would be the case even if he had failed. TCJ hasn’t changed that much.

  113. Chuck Gower says:

    Actually, by the mid-80’s, comics were getting less for the ads because, according to Jim Shooter on his blog: “advertisers realized that the comic book buyers tended to buy multiple titles”, giving the ads less power.

    Also, with the rise in popularity of magazines, that saw tremendous growth in the 70’s and 80’s, the had increased competition.

    And, one of the contributing factors to comic books sudden increase in cover prices had to do with being squeezed off the news stands by those higher priced (and thus higher merchant profits) magazines. It wasn’t completely about profit, it was about making it expensive enough to compete for shelf space without losing audience.

  114. Oliver 1000 says:

    Jesus Christ you guys are boorish. Should the creators have been more justly compensated, even years after their work? Sure. Were they? No. End of story.

  115. Mike Hunter says:

    ———————–
    Chuck Gower says:

    …No one creates anything anymore. It’s all rehashed same old same old.
    Why?
    Because of what happened to Kirby.
    They know better than to give great new ideas to a thief.
    So what we get is tired, boring retreads of ideas repeated ad nauseum, dressed up in variant covers and story promises, and cluttered store racks…
    ————————-

    Re “what we get is tired, boring retreads of ideas repeated ad nauseum,” is this a phenomenon exclusively limited to comics? Hardly. It’s utterly common throughout history and in countless creative fields (“Oh, not ANOTHER painting of the Crucifixion! Yawn!”) , rather than an exception.

    This attitude, along with that decrying…

    ———————-
    george says:

    What a bunch of anger, bitterness, name-calling and finger-pointing this thread is. Grow up, guys.

    This is the sort of childish fanboy bickering that makes sane people avoid comic-book fandom…
    ———————–

    “Grow up”? Take a look at the world situation, the history of the human race, politics here and throughout the world. This threat is positively genteel and utterly civilized in comparison with debates about sports, politics, economics, race and gender; its damage limited to, at worst, a few bruised egos.

    …only betrays a circumscribed perspective; just like teenagers who think they invented sex, it acts as if there’s something uniquely vile about the comics industry and fandom, whereas it’s just, alas, “business as ususual.”

    ————————–
    Chuck Gower says:

    Yeah, what a great model for success.

    One of the greatest creators in the history of American Comics is virtually unknown outside of the hobby, while the spokesman for the greatest thief in the history of American Comics continues to shake hands and sign autographs and take credit for the success, while the thief continues to dumb down and retard the art form Kirby built.

    You can call it a success all you want.
    It’s sad and it’s pathetic.
    ————————

    However atrociously unfair it is that Kirby never received the massive fame and fortune he absolutely deserved (times change: though he’s even more unknown to the mainstream, Rob Liefeld at least became a millionaire), a “thief” only takes; gives nothing back.

    Rather than take the chance that you’ll never “strike it rich,” or wanting to work in fields where your talents greatly benefit from association with the resources of a big corporation, (would “Watchmen” have been the mega-hit it was in its time without the publishing/promotional clout of DC behind it?), some choose to do “work for hire”; knowing they’ll have a degree of security, minimize their financial risks, with the significant drawback that if they come up with a major invention, develop a highly profitable new drug, or create another Superman, the company will be legally considered the author of the work.

    ————————
    Toru Iwatani…is a former Japanese video game designer and creator of the arcade game Pac-Man.

    …He joined the computer software company Namco in 1977, where he started his career in the video game business. There, he came up with the idea for a game called “Puck-Man” and in 1980, he, along with programmer Shigeo Funaki, a hardware engineer, a cabinet designer and Toshio Kai for sound and music, finished the game. It was released to the Japanese public on May 22 of that year, where it became a huge success. It caught the attention of arcade-game manufacturer Midway, who bought the United States rights for the game and released the game in the U.S. as “Pac-Man”, for fear that kids might deface a Puck-Man cabinet by changing the ‘P’ to an ‘F’. Due to its innovative concept and continuing international popularity, it is regarded as one of the all-time classic video games…

    Iwatani went on to create a few other video games, including Libble Rabble, but none of them reached the amount of success that Pac-Man did. He was promoted within the ranks of Namco, eventually being responsible for overseeing the administration of the company. In [an] interview, Iwatani said he did not personally profit from the creation of Pac-Man, saying, “The truth of the matter is, there were no rewards per se for the success of Pac-Man. I was just an employee. There was no change in my salary, no bonus, no official citation of any kind.”
    —————————-
    (From the Wikipedia entry for Toru Iwatani)

    —————————-
    Harvey Ross Ball (July 10, 1921 – April 12, 2001) was an American commercial artist. He is recognized as the earliest known designer of the smiley, which became an enduring and notable international icon.

    The State Mutual Life Assurance Company of Worcester, Massachusetts (now known as Hanover Insurance) had purchased Guarantee Mutual Company of Ohio. The merger resulted in low employee morale. In an attempt to solve this, Ball was employed in 1963 as a freelance artist, to create a smiley face to be used on buttons, desk cards, and posters. In less than ten minutes the smiley face was complete.

    The use of the smiley face was part of the company’s friendship campaign whereby State Mutual handed out 100 smiley pins to employees. The aim was to get employees to smile while using the phone and doing other tasks. The buttons became popular, with orders being taken in lots of 10,000. More than 50 million smiley face buttons had been sold by 1971, and the smiley has been described as an international icon.

    Ball never applied for a trademark or copyright of the smiley and earned just $45 for his work (US $315 in 2010 inflation-adjusted dollars). State Mutual, similarly, did not make any money from the design. Ball’s son, Charles, is reported to have said his father never regretted not registering the copyright. Telegram & Gazette reported Charles Ball as saying “he was not a money-driven guy, he used to say, ‘Hey, I can only eat one steak at a time, drive one car at a time'”.
    —————————–
    (From the Wikipedia entry for Harvey Ball)

    On a local vein:

    —————————–
    …in the late 1960’s, Florida State art student John Roberge received the princely sum of $50.00 from the school administration, to draw an Indian Head logo that was used on a school pamphlet. The logo was shown to the athletic department but was rejected at that time for reasons that remain unexplained and perhaps lost to history and fading memories. The Indian Head logo had obviously caught the fancy of Coach Mudra as the gold helmet with one-inch garnet center stripe and one-inch white flanking stripes now had a garnet, black, and white Indian Head, the same Indian Head that Mr. Roberge had drawn years before, overlaid on a shape of the state of Florida. This wonderful design was not only reused for the helmets that the team wore to complete the ’75 season, but became an icon for all of the FSU Athletic Department teams…
    ——————————-
    …And went on to earn millions of bucks in licensing $ for FSU. (From http://www.helmethut.com/College/FloridaState/FLXFSU7575c.html )

  116. R. Maheras says:

    Oliver — Sorry to disappoint as your dancing monkey du jour.

    Perhaps you don’t care about Silver Age finances, but I do. Knowledge does not begin and end with “who got screwed?”

  117. R. Maheras says:

    Chuck — Yeah, but Shooter also said that they were pressured constantly to up the clientele level of the ads so they could charge more money.

    When Marvel went corporate, the price increases suddenly came like clockwork every few years or so. Why? Because in a corporation, the focus is always on increasing profits to appease shareholders.

    By the way, Shooter also said he believes that, unlike the slick magazines, ads were not the main source of revenue for comics — sales were.

  118. Oliver 1000 says:

    What is it you guys want? Reparations for descendants? More favorable contracts for modern creators? Status as most pedantic, sycophantic fans? “Knowledge”? We already know Kirby and Ditko got screwed, and Lee benefited out of proportion. Knowing the exact numbers won’t make a difference for anyone. I don’t understand this fannish behavior of ingratiating yourself in a creator/publisher issue.

  119. Allen Smith says:

    I’d agree with most of the figuring Russ Maheras has done about industry economics circa 1968. So, the real argument to be made is that Goodman sold Marvel a few years too soon, that he should have waited for the licensing, movies, and other things to start to take hold. But aside from a few dinky TV series, like the Hulk, and movie of the week types of movies for characters such as Dr. Strange, there were no movie franchises for a very long time to showcase the Marvel characters. I’d wager that the big budget movies jump started the value of the other licensing rights, although not the circulation of the comics themselves. And Goodman would have had to wait a very long time to see Marvel explode into a corporation worth four billion dollars to Disney. So, while the sale of Marvel for fifteen million in ’68 sounds like peanuts, it really wasn’t all that bad a business move. It made a nice little nest egg for Goodman in his retirement, one which he later squandered to a certain extent by publishing Atlas comics in the seventies.

  120. Allen Smith says:

    The history is past, nothing can be done about it. The real question is, is there any way that Kirby’s heirs could be allowed to share in what their father created? Would Marvel, or Disney, ever settle with the Kirby estate as a gesture of goodwill, once the dust has settled on the legal action? The odds are not good, but it’s an avenue that needs to be encouraged by keeping the issue out front. So that despite the fact that the past is the past, the future is not doomed to be the same.

  121. The thoughts contained herein are directed at the beginnings of this thread and not at the last bits which I cose to gealn right by. These are hopes of clearing up some earlier misconceptions some writers seeemed to have had which I did not see address:

    Goodman sold out in 1968 with a management training proviso which ran four years thru 1972. he had say-so over stuff going un til some time in 1972.

    The deal included new owner having son Chip run the place.

    However Chip’s sole interest at the time was being involved with the men’s mags ie personal up close with the female models without wanting to involve himself too much with the other aspects of the publishign gig. This did not sit well with the new owner(s). They booted Chip out. Martin got pissed off.

    This is the story being bandied about when Atlas Comics began coming up off the ground in 1974 when I was still a partner in Comics & Ciomix in the Bay Area, the nation’s first comic book chain store operation.

    As I was told it back in the day, Martin burned thru some $20 million before stopping good money going after bad. he had flooded the market place once again in his anger. There was no discussion at the time he had gotten “tired of retirement” which is a new one on me to read here in this blog commentary.

    the numbvers Russ bandied about re a grand or so a book being “net” profit are real. Irwin Donenfeld told me during interviews I did with him some times a book only cleared a hundred bucks. Some times profits were well more than a grand. It helped to own the distribution company, just for starters. Also, some times advert revenue paid for all the costs – or most of them

    re paper costs.

    In the late 90s Elliot caplin (bro to Al Capp, publisher of Toby Press), Joe Simon, others pointed me to paper broker George Dougherty Jr. I talked with him extensively several times when he was still alive. he lived in Palm Springs “…around the corner from Frank Sinatra….” so, yes, he got quite wealthy.

    He brokered all the paper to Martin Goodman from late 1939 onwards until his contratc ran out in 1972.

    George also brokered all the paper for Lev Gleason, MC Gaines < Bill Gaines (till 1972), Fiction Houser and othes.

    He brokered all the paper for most all those obscure post World War Two start ups as well.

    His pop had been a line printer at Eastern Color when Famous Funnies began rolling off the presses. In 1939 he graduated from college. He told me he asked his pop for advice what line of work he should go in to. He said his dad suggested to him comic books were beginning to be big business. Superman et al were taking off by late 1939.

    He did not ask for paper costs up front. We specifically talked about that. For example when EC went down, george told me Bill Gaines owed him $600,000. That debt was paid off over time as Mad Comics changed in to a magazine, retooled and took off.

    Distribution was a real challenge Goodman could not overcome back in 1974. He also did not have Dougherty Jr to front him paper.

    The comic book market was collapsing thru the 70s post Batman TV show craze glut which peaked 1968-69 when books had to go to 15 cents to survive. Witness cover prices spiking 20 25 30 35 40 50 60 65 75 cents thru that decade.

    When we started Comics & Comix back in Aug 1972 just a couple weeks after the first El Cortez San Diego Comicon, part of my main motivation at the time was to try to help "save" the American comic book. This was following a one on one conversation I had with my friend Will Eisner at his second comicon he ever attended which was Multicon 72 in Oklahoma City. We had specific talk with him suggesting one way might be for enterprising young souls to open up comic book stores as close to university college campuses in efforts to capture that sort of crowd. This is one reason we picked UC-Berkeley on Telegraph Ave.

    Goodman sold out right at peak glut time in 1968. Smart move for him at the time. He would not have lived long enough for Marvel Comics to enter the movie biz. The technology to make the movies properly buh-leeve-able was not yet invented till the 21st century.

    I have not yet gotten Mike and Blake's new book. Been too close to the grind stone rebuilding my vintage comic book business in to an online store. There are a number of new books out I wish to acquire soon. Have accumulated debts to discharge first before I can pick up vanity press items again, but I digress again as I am wont to do.

    Am looking forward to reading it some time later this year. I have been studying Goodman the man for many decades. There is very little "out there" to study. Parts of what I have gleaned are in this blog I made up back in 2012 which I call Goodman vs Kirby & Ditko. To date no one has punched any holes in what I have to say here. If you choose to read it, click this link, then click on to the next one you see as it "lives" inside the Kirby Museum right now. http://blbcomicshistoryresearch.blogspot.com/2012/02/goodman-vs-ditko-kirby-by-robert.html

    Just saw this being discussed over on Doc V's Timely Atlas list earlier today. I had not been on Yahoo for some months. Am super busy retolling my little vintage comic book factory. If i get out of debt I can devote the time to finishing up my book Comic Book Store Wars on the history of the comics as a business. Buy a book from me, click on my name up above and go to my online comic book store. I surely miss all the research i was doing before my medical imbroglio lost me a good half decade.

  122. I also apologize for the grevious typos in the first paragraph. Am embarressed at my haste and leaped with out a final look-see.

  123. Michel Faber says:

    A number of people in this thread have got themselves steamed up in their arguments with Robert Stanley Martin. There is no point. His focus is legalistic and historical, not philosophical or moral (much less artistic or aesthetic). He is interested – to cite one crucial example – in what was understood, during the 1960s, by “work for hire”. His contention is that according to the laws and customs of the time, everyone involved in the comics industry – publishers, editors, writers and artists, as well as the legal profession – agreed that “work for hire” meant that you got paid for the job but the company owned the results.

    Whenever anyone gets angry about the way Kirby was treated by Marvel, RSM tries to remind them that Marvel was only playing by the rules as they then stood. His stance is neatly summed up by a comment in in a post he contributed to another TCJ article: “If you disagree with me, go talk to a lawyer”.

    The fact that a multi-million dollar industry was, and continues to be, founded on Jack Kirby’s work and that Kirby benefited little from this, is to RSM irrelevant. So what if Kirby felt pain when he walked past toy stores that were selling games and action figures based on his creations? In the absence of solid contracts to remunerate Kirby for these things, Kirby’s pain was (in RSM’s reading) nothing better-founded than the sting of regret about bad business decisions. The corporation did not owe him anything more than he signed up for.

    Legalistically speaking, this is quite correct. What it ignores is any sense of natural justice – a concept that annoys RSM as woolly and emotive. He is not interested in how a corporation ideally should behave when it discovers that the “work for hire” of one of its employees has given birth to a lucrative cultural phenomenon. He does not see why a corporation, from some sense of “natural justice”, should ever show its gratitude to a goose that has laid a million golden eggs. He is interested in whether the corporation discharged its contractual responsibilities within the legal parameters of the business practice of the day.

    (Here’s a non-comics analogy: in the 18th century, slavery was legal and normal. A historian might argue that we should not expect an 18th century plantation owner to reject slavery, emancipate his slaves or even offer his slaves better working conditions. Such an expectation would be to impose the values of a later age retrospectively onto an earlier one.)

    Once you accept where RSM is coming from, you will find that he is offering you some quite useful data. Just don’t try to engage with him outside his chosen parameters. He will dismiss your higher principles as hot air – which, seen through a particular lens, they demonstrably are.

  124. Mike Hunter says:

    ———————–
    Michel Faber says:

    A number of people in this thread have got themselves steamed up in their arguments with Robert Stanley Martin. There is no point. His focus is legalistic and historical, not philosophical or moral…
    ———————–

    And it’s a major mistake to think his painfully realistic view and description of the legal/industry-wide situation in the Bad Old Days equals his approval; his believing that it was a good thing. As RSM said earlier:

    “…I’m firmly of the view that Kirby and his estate ideally would be receiving royalties from Marvel from the licensing and so forth. If he’d come along 20 years later, they would be…” (Emphasis added.)

    This indicates awareness that it would have been morally right for Kirby & family to have received added remuneration. And it was only the fact that that “business and legal circumstances” in the comics field were unfortunately different — for the worse — 20 years ago that interfered.

  125. spencer sturdevant says:

    Well, there is a logic here. A corporation exists entirely to make and grow profit. Its legally obligate to even. It’s just a personification of, what I would define as, the tyrannical and *abstract* (and therefore impersonal) domination of Capital over capitalist society. Corporations are not “human” institutions in any sense. Damn shame.

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